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Even Arrestees Must Provide DNA?

The U.S. House of Representatives recently approved a bill that would give states about $75 million each to enact legislation that would mirror a federal law that requires DNA collection from people arrested for certain crimes. The federal legislation requires federal agencies to collect DNA samples from those arrested, and for the samples to be included in the FBI's Convicted Offender DNA Index System. Currently, DNA samples collected by state law enforcement are not added to the federal database.

If a similar bill is passed by the Senate and signed into law, it is unclear how many states will be on board. Recently, the Oklahoma House of Representatives overwhelmingly voted against a bill that would have required law enforcement to collect DNA samples from those arrested for felonies and violent misdemeanors. The recent bill passed by the House will have little effect if most state legislatures fail to enact similar laws of their own.

Most people agree that DNA can be collected from offenders who are convicted of serious crimes. But those who oppose such measures believe that collecting DNA samples from defendants who have not yet been convicted of a crime violates the Fourth Amendment right to be free from unwarranted search and seizure. In today's criminal justice system, judges can issue a warrant to forcefully extract DNA from a suspect if the prosecutor can show enough probable cause to warrant sampling. The federal law would reward states for taking the judge out of the process and enacting legislation to automatically require sampling without a warrant. Also, opponents of mandated sampling are concerned with privacy issues in regard to those who are arrested but later found not guilty.

Proponents of the bill believe that the consistent collection of DNA samples will reduce false convictions and assist law enforcement in solving cases that currently have little evidence. They say that illegal search and seizure issues are not a valid argument against the bill because DNA sampling is similar to fingerprinting, and fingerprints are stored just like DNA samples would be. Also, the mandated sampling would not encompass arrests for all crimes. Only those arrested for suspected burglary, aggravated assault, murder, manslaughter and serious sex crimes (including those against minors) would be subjected to forced DNA sampling.

The bill awaits action by the U.S. Senate.

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