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Lawmakers spar over merits of DNA sampling of those charged with felonies

A bill that would require police to take DNA samples from everyone arrested for a felony had its final hearing at the state capitol Wednesday broadcast live on the Wisconsin Eye network. It included some spirited debate about the constitutional implications of taking samples from people who may be innocent.

Gov. Jim Doyle and most state law enforcement agencies back the bill. They say expanding the DNA database would help police in tracking down criminals

But Milwaukee state representative Fred Kessler says taking the sample before someone has been found guilty would put the state on a slippery slope towards violating the Fourth Amendment right to be free of unreasonable search and seizure. He argues for waiting until a suspect is convicted before obtaining a DNA sample.

"Otherwise, why we don't just go and take it when you're born and then maybe we can find out that your mother is a criminal and therefore you have the criminal propensity," says Kessler. "And we can probably keep you out of the school system and get you into the juvenile court system early. I guess I just say our Fourth Amendment has to mean something."

But supporters of the bill including Republican state representative Ed Brooks of Reedsburg says it's no different from the fingerprints that are being taken now of at the time of arrest.

"My DNA is inactive but if I fall off the wagon and commit a felony you can get me off the street quicker," says Brooks.

The bill does allow for people to have their DNA sample expunged when they're found innocent.

Another bill headed for the assembly floor only requires county sheriff's departments to take samples from all convicted felons at the courthouse on the day they're convicted.