DNA Collection Law Heads to Supreme Court
Alaska is one of 28 states that take DNA from suspects on arrest, not conviction
ANCHORAGE - It’s a case that will go to the highest court in the land later this month. The U.S. Supreme Court is being asked to decide whether it’s legal for law enforcement to take DNA samples from suspects when they’re arrested, not just convicted of a crime. Twenty-eight states already do that, including Alaska, which has been collecting samples on arrest since 2007.
The state crime lab in East Anchorage is where those samples are sent. Right now there are about 30,000 people who have both DNA and fingerprints on file. Some of the samples come from people convicted of certain crimes, but the majority of them come from those who have simply been arrested for them. State DNA Director Michelle Collins says those crimes include most felonies and what are known as “crimes against people.”
“Burglaries, thefts, assaults, sexual assaults, homicides, anyone being arrested or convicted of one of those will require you to give a sample for the database,” said Collins.
The samples are analyzed and then listed in a national database where law enforcement agencies across the country can look for matches with crime scene evidence. Authorities say taking a sample early in the process, such as when a suspect is arrested, could mean a match that might stop them from committing more crimes, or provide a lead where there wasn’t one before.
“It’s pretty exciting,” said State Crime Lab Director Orin Dym. “When you have a case that is going nowhere, there’s no suspect in mind, and all of a sudden you pull a database hit, well then there’s a lead and it’s time for law enforcement to follow up.”
But privacy experts argue that people who haven’t been convicted shouldn’t have to submit their DNA.
“A search of your DNA is a search, and the constitution says you have to have reasonable cause,” said American Civil Liberties Union Alaska president Jeffery Mittman. “You can’t do it without a warrant and you can’t do it without reason.”
There are also concerns that once a sample is submitted it stays on file in the system, even if a person is later found innocent or the charges are thrown out. It takes a judge’s order to remove it. Still, officials argue that changing the law will have an impact.
“For us it means that less samples come in,” said Dym. “To Alaskans it means less cases are solved.”
Law enforcement agencies in every state are petitioning the court to keep the law as is. President Barack Obama is asking every state to start collecting DNA upon arrest and is even providing some federal money to help state’s pay for it.