Proposal would expand DNA collection to more than just convicted felonsAnyone arrested for a felony offense and all adults convicted of misdemeanor crimes would be required to provide a DNA sample to law enforcement under a proposal from the state Department of Justice.
By: By Sandy Cullen, The Wisconsin State Journal, Superior Telegram
Anyone arrested for a felony offense and all adults convicted of misdemeanor crimes would be required to provide a DNA sample to law enforcement under a proposal from the state Department of Justice.
Adults arrested for certain misdemeanor crimes -- such as fourth-degree sexual assault and prostitution -- also would need to provide DNA samples, which would be entered into a national database used to match DNA evidence collected at crime scenes to suspects.
Currently, state law allows DNA to be collected only from adults and juveniles convicted of felonies, with about 12,000 samples obtained each year.
Brian O'Keefe, administrator for the DOJ's Division of Law Enforcement Services, said the expected addition of about 68,000 DNA samples a year -- at least initially -- under the proposed expansion would help law enforcement solve more cases more quickly and get criminals off the street.
The number of new samples would eventually drop, he said, because DNA profiles of those reoffending would not have to be added to the system.
But Chris Ahmuty of the ACLU of Wisconsin said, "It seems like they've gone for the nuclear option when it comes to DNA on arrest."
Casting such a wide net raises concerns about cost, management and privacy and "turns the presumption of innocence on its head," Ahmuty said. He added that the DOJ proposal is more encompassing and costly than previous legislative proposals.
O'Keefe said the proposed expansion of DNA collection would begin in October 2014 and cost about $7 million in its first two years.
To cover those costs -- including the addition of 26 full-time positions -- DOJ is asking that everyone convicted of a felony be required to pay a $250 surcharge and that everyone convicted of a misdemeanor pay a $150 surcharge.
Currently, a DNA surcharge for people convicted of felonies is often waived by a judge.
The DOJ proposal also would require expansion and upgrades of the state Crime Lab in Madison.
According to the DOJ's budget proposal, 27 states and the federal government have some form of DNA collection at arrest.
But Ahmuty said the law in that area is not settled. Last month, he said, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals agreed to rehear a lawsuit by the ACLU of Northern California opposing a California law requiring DNA collection from people arrested for felonies.
While many court decisions have favored more narrow DNA collection where it might help solve a case, he said, under the DOJ proposal, DNA would be collected in many cases where there is no such evidence from a crime scene.
O'Keefe said DNA samples -- which are collected by swabbing the inside of the mouth -- are comparable to photographs and fingerprints, which have long been taken at the time of arrest.
"This is just technology moving forward," he said.
Responded Ahmuty: "To say that this is just the modern-day fingerprint of the 20th century is not entirely correct."
O'Keefe said individuals are assigned a code when their DNA profiles are entered into the national database, so names aren't used. And under the DOJ proposal, people could have their DNA profile expunged from the system a year after being arrested if no charges are filed, or if they are acquitted or pardoned.
But Ahmuty said if the original DNA sample is not destroyed, it raises concerns about how the genetic information could be used in the future.
O'Keefe said the DOJ proposal was developed in cooperation with the office of Gov. Scott Walker, who in April asked state Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen to submit a plan for collecting DNA upon arrest for some felonies and serious sex-related offenses.
Walker spokesman Cullen Werwie said Tuesday that "all agency requests will be considered in the scope of the entire state budget."
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