Measure to allow DNA testing of felony suspects gets hearing

Credit: The Economist

A bill to allow police to take DNA samples from people who have been arrested, but not convicted, got a hearing in Olympia on Friday.

But even if approved, its sponsor believes it will be challenged in state court.

Currently, those convicted of a felony and some lesser crimes are required to give a sample. Usually the test is done by swabbing the inside of a person’s cheek. If approved, the sample would be taken when a suspect is lodged in jail — along with fingerprints and photographs — but would not be immediately used in an investigation without court review.

Supporters believe the evidence could be used to help police stop sex criminals. Civil libertarians say its invasive and a violation of a person’s rights.

State Sen. Jeannie Darneille, D-Tacoma, is sponsoring the measure in response to the case of a serial rapist who might have been stopped in his tracks if authorities had his DNA in the database.

State Sen. Jan Angel, R-Port Orchard, has also signed onto the measure.

Last summer KUOW did a story on the measure, where Darneille said this:

“Some of those crimes were completely heinous. One of them involved holding three women hostage in a home and repeatedly raping, raping, raping, raping.”

Although last summer the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the practice as constitutional, and 28 states do it already, the court challenge would likely say the measure violates the state constitution, which offers stronger civil liberties protections than the U.S. Constitution.

Comes now, this explanation of the bill, from a statement from its sponsor:

Under the bill, DNA samples would be collected at the time of booking from any adults arrested for a ranked felony offense or selected gross misdemeanor offenses. (Examples include violation of protection orders related to domestic violence, sexual assault, marital dissolution, child custody disputes, abuse of vulnerable adults or a foreign protection order.)

The DNA sample would not be opened or analyzed by a Washington State Patrol Crime Lab technician unless judicial findings of probable cause were established. The sample would then be uploaded to the national Combined DNA Index System (CODIS). The only information that is added to CODIS is the originating lab identifier, a randomly generated specimen number, 13 genetic markers that do not contain any medical information other than gender, and an identifier for the lab analyst. If the court does not affirm probable cause, the untested sample would be destroyed.

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