ILNews

SCOTUS ruling emboldens lawmakers to expand DNA collection

Back to TopCommentsE-mailPrintBookmark and Share

This time next year, Indiana may join the majority of states that collect DNA samples from people arrested on suspicion of committing felonies, rather than only from those convicted. Lawmakers who’ve been stymied are encouraged by a Supreme Court of the United States decision upholding the practice.

Senators this year buried Senate Bill 245 by a vote of 34-16. The bill would have expanded DNA collection to those arrested for certain violent felonies or burglary. One of the bill’s champions, though, said the margin of vote doesn’t tell the full story.

“It turns out on the final day for calling third reading for bills, that was the same day this issue was argued before the Supreme Court,” said Sen. Joseph Zakas, R-Granger, an author and outspoken proponent. Senators hesitated until the court spoke, he said.

“I think the chances of passage are greater because the court has issued a ruling on this, and I think there are some good answers to a number of the concerns raised on the other side,” Zakas said. “The bill will save lives.”

The high court on June 3 handed down a 5-4 decision in Maryland v. King, 133 S. Ct. 594 (2012), that affirmed Maryland’s practice of collecting DNA from people arrested for certain felonies. The genetic material taken via cheek swab is entered into the Combined DNA Index System (CODIS) database that can match samples to DNA profiles taken from crime scenes or from victims of unsolved violent crimes. In Alonzo King’s case, DNA collected after his arrest for menacing people with a shotgun connected him to a 6-year-old unsolved rape for which later he was convicted.

Conservative Justice Antonin Scalia authored a blistering dissent, even by his standards, joined by three of the court’s more liberal justices: Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor. Scalia wrote that the majority had abandoned the unreasonable search and seizure protections of the Fourth Amendment, and he was incredulous about the majority’s position that the DNA collection was for identification purposes rather than crime solving.

“The Court disguises the vast (and scary) scope of its holding by promising a limitation it cannot deliver. The Court repeatedly says that DNA testing, and entry into a national DNA registry, will not befall thee and me, dear reader, but only those arrested for ‘serious offense[s],’” Scalia wrote. “… I doubt the proud men who wrote the charter of our liberties would have been so eager to open their mouths for royal inspection.”

While civil libertarians worried about the portent of the decision, those who endorse expansion of DNA collection in criminal cases said the need to protect the public is paramount.

“Folks, I think, worry needlessly about it,” Indiana Prosecuting Attorneys Council Executive Director David H. Powell said. “I don’t want to criticize Justice Scalia, but I have a lot of confidence in the criminal justice system by and large being fair and truth-seeking.”

DNA collection can not only match suspects to unsolved crimes, but may also rule them out, Powell noted. “All we’re interested in is the truth and pinpointing those who commit crimes and doing it as accurately and effectively as possible.”
 

steele-brent2012-mug Steele

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Brent Steele, R-Bedford, said he backed SB 245 and similar bills, and he expects passage now that the court has spoken. He noted the majority in the King opinion wrote that even if King’s DNA had not been collected, a fingerprint match also connected him to the unsolved rape.

“I just don’t see the problem,” Steele said. “I just don’t see the alligator in the mud puddle.” Fingerprints have been collected by law enforcement since the 1930s without concerns about misuse or Fourth Amendment violations, he explained. “Do we lose control of fingerprints?”

Paul Misner, biology section commander for the Indiana State Police, said ISP has been neutral on legislation to expand the database, but the lab has taken steps to accommodate what would be a significant increase in analyzing samples. ISP, which administers the state’s DNA database, now collects about 1,500 samples monthly from convicted felons and has the capability to analyze up to twice as many. He said the lab’s cost of analyzing and storing DNA is about $20 per sample, funded by a court filing fee.

Misner sees a need to educate people on what happens after those cheek swabs arrive at the lab.

“I guess I can understand people’s concerns. All they know is, ‘Someone took my sample, and I don’t know what they’re going to do with it,’” he acknowledged. “I do understand the perspective of people on the street who think, ‘The government shouldn’t have my DNA, particularly if I haven’t committed a crime.’”

However, “The very high success rate of the CODIS program in general is good for people to know,” he said. In about 40 percent of cases where DNA profiles exist from crime scenes or victims, a match is generated against the offender database.


dave powell Powell

“There’s a very limited segment of DNA we’re actually testing for that has nothing to do with physical traits or medical predispositions” or other genetic markers, Misner said. This non-coding DNA, Misner said, “is all we’re interested in, and that’s what we put in CODIS.”

Zakas said 28 states and the federal government follow the practice affirmed in the King decision with good reason – the governmental duty of safeguarding the public. “As a general principal, we have the right to be safe in our homes and neighborhoods,” he said.


landis-larry-mug Landis

Indiana Public Defender Council Executive Director Larry Landis said the court’s decision removes constitutional impediments to expanding the state’s DNA collection and leaves the matter as a public policy and privacy question for lawmakers.

Landis said the Public Defender Council doesn’t oppose development of science that enhances the reliability of finding defendants guilty or not guilty.

But while the CODIS database may yield hits in 40 percent of cold cases as Misner noted, Landis said expanding DNA collection would come with a major complication because, likewise, about 40 percent of people charged with felonies are never convicted. A mechanism for expungement of DNA records would have to be workable, he said.

Misner said the ISP lab currently receives fewer than 10 requests for expungement a year. He said processing the additional expungement requests that would result from expanded DNA collection is probably the greatest challenge the lab would face.

Because DNA is different from fingerprints or other identifiers collected by law enforcement, more in line with a blood sample, the potential for misuse should not be dismissed, Landis said. He added that Scalia, in his dissent, also suggested the King ruling could someday open the door to government collection of DNA not just from criminal defendants, but from people seeking a driver’s license or an airline ticket, for instance.

“Once you start down this road, it is the proverbial slippery slope,” Landis said. “If that’s where people want to go, they’re on that road, whether they know it or not.”•

ADVERTISEMENT

Post a comment to this story

COMMENTS POLICY
We reserve the right to remove any post that we feel is obscene, profane, vulgar, racist, sexually explicit, abusive, or hateful.
 
You are legally responsible for what you post and your anonymity is not guaranteed.
 
Posts that insult, defame, threaten, harass or abuse other readers or people mentioned in Indiana Lawyer editorial content are also subject to removal. Please respect the privacy of individuals and refrain from posting personal information.
 
No solicitations, spamming or advertisements are allowed. Readers may post links to other informational websites that are relevant to the topic at hand, but please do not link to objectionable material.
 
We may remove messages that are unrelated to the topic, encourage illegal activity, use all capital letters or are unreadable.
 

Messages that are flagged by readers as objectionable will be reviewed and may or may not be removed. Please do not flag a post simply because you disagree with it.

Sponsored by

facebook - twitter on Facebook & Twitter

Indiana State Bar Association

Indianapolis Bar Association

Evansville Bar Association

Allen County Bar Association

Indiana Lawyer on Facebook

facebook
ADVERTISEMENT
Subscribe to Indiana Lawyer
  1. I just wanted to point out that Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner, Senator Feinstein, former Senate majority leader Bill Frist, and former attorney general John Ashcroft are responsible for this rubbish. We need to keep a eye on these corrupt, arrogant, and incompetent fools.

  2. Well I guess our politicians have decided to give these idiot federal prosecutors unlimited power. Now if I guy bounces a fifty-dollar check, the U.S. attorney can intentionally wait for twenty-five years or so and have the check swabbed for DNA and file charges. These power hungry federal prosecutors now have unlimited power to mess with people. we can thank Wisconsin's Jim Sensenbrenner and Diane Feinstein, John Achcroft and Bill Frist for this one. Way to go, idiots.

  3. I wonder if the USSR had electronic voting machines that changed the ballot after it was cast? Oh well, at least we have a free media serving as vicious watchdog and exposing all of the rot in the system! (Insert rimshot)

  4. Jose, you are assuming those in power do not wish to be totalitarian. My experience has convinced me otherwise. Constitutionalists are nearly as rare as hens teeth among the powerbrokers "managing" us for The Glorious State. Oh, and your point is dead on, el correcta mundo. Keep the Founders’ (1791 & 1851) vision alive, my friend, even if most all others, and especially the ruling junta, chase only power and money (i.e. mammon)

  5. Hypocrisy in high places, absolute immunity handed out like Halloween treats (it is the stuff of which tyranny is made) and the belief that government agents are above the constitutions and cannot be held responsible for mere citizen is killing, perhaps has killed, The Republic. And yet those same power drunk statists just reel on down the hallway toward bureaucratic fascism.

ADVERTISEMENT