Flawed Ohio DNA law targeting those not yet convicted of a crime needs to be reformed

by admin 7. October 2014 21:02


Ohio lawmakers should revisit a flawed 2011 Ohio law that requires that DNA be collected from all adults arrested -- but not yet convicted -- for felony crimes.

Recent reported inconsistencies and gaps in how the law is being applied, in Cleveland and elsewhere, underscore the difficulty that some jurisdictions are having in finding a workable way to enforce this law -- which is not to excuse the Cleveland police department's apparent failure to keep adequate records of what it is doing.

The DNA, once collected, goes into the state's criminal database -- whether or not the suspect is later released without charges, or charged but found not guilty. No wonder some police departments are finding it difficult to enforce this provision.

The law requires adults arrested on felony charges to "submit to a DNA specimen collection procedure."

Parma police, for example, get a search warrant or court order to obtain DNA. They also explain to the truly uncooperative that they will use "reasonable force" to collect samples, Plain Dealer courts reporter Rachel Dissell wrote.

Last year the U.S. Supreme Court ruled such DNA testing constitutional, in a 5-4 vote in a Maryland case, arguing it did not constitute unreasonable search and seizure because it was "a legitimate police booking procedure."

Nonsense, said conservative Justice Antonin Scalia, joining three of the court's usual liberal dissenters and arguing the real reason DNA is taken is to solve cold cases -- not sufficient legal reason. Scalia is right.

Mike Brickner, senior policy advisor for the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio, notes that the important legal precept of presumption of innocence also is at stake.

"If a person commits a crime of violence, we want that person held accountable," Brickner said. "That doesn't mean we write the government a blank check to achieve that goal without any kind of due process or evidence."

As this editorial board argued when the Ohio law was first enacted, the law's DNA-testing provisions are too broad and intrusive. The tremendous success of Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine's initiative to process thousands of untested rape kits that sat forgotten on evidence-room shelves for decades should not trump the right to due process.

Editorial Board, Cleveland Plain Dealer


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