Michigan Senate panel debates expanding DNA collection

by jeeg 6. February 2013 23:10

Michigan could expand the collection of DNA samples to include people arrested on suspicion of all felony charges, under a package of bills considered by a Senate panel Tuesday.


Sen. Tonya Schuitmaker, a Lawton Republican who introduced the bills, told the Senate Judiciary Committee Tuesday the proposed law change would "solve crimes and save lives." But critics say putting people in a DNA database before they are convicted of a crime could violate their legal rights and overburden the state's identification system.

Since 2009, Michigan has required the collection of DNA samples at arrest on suspicion of murder, rape, kidnapping and other violent felonies. The proposed set of bills would expand that to include people arrested for lesser felonies, like breaking and entering, said Sgt. Dwayne Gill, a legislative liaison for the Michigan State Police. Prisoners in Michigan also are required to provide DNA samples when they begin their sentence.

Gill said by having a person's DNA on file after arrest, police could determine if a person out on bond had previously committed a crime. He said it would cut down on repeat offenders by catching criminals early and help innocent suspects avoid needless investigations.

But the American Civil Liberties Union says collecting DNA from people before they are charged or convicted ignores the "innocent until proven guilty" presumption in the nation's legal system. The ACLU also says that DNA contains highly personal and private information, like family history, and should not be treated as if it were a fingerprint.

Twenty-eight states and the federal government require people to submit a DNA sample when arrested on suspicion of some kind of felony. In about eleven of those states, DNA is taken at the time of arrest for all felony charges, Gill said.

But the U.S. Supreme Court is expected to take up a Maryland DNA collection case later this month that could have implications nationwide, including Michigan. The Supreme Court will decide whether taking a person's DNA before they are convicted is considered unreasonable search and seizure under the Fourth Amendment.

Under the proposed change in Michigan, a person could petition the court to have their DNA sample removed from the state's database and destroyed if the charges against them are dropped or they are found not guilty, Gill said.

During the committee hearing Tuesday, Sens. Tory Rocca, R-Sterling Heights, and Steven Bieda, D-Warren, expressed concern that the burden would fall on the accused person to have their DNA sample destroyed. Rocca said there should be a way for the samples to be "automatically destroyed." The committee decided to hold off on a vote to see if the bills can be refined to reflect these concerns.

Shelli Weisberg, the legislative director for the ACLU of Michigan, told The Associated Press that if the expansion goes forward her priority is to "mitigate the harmful policy" by ensuring that it provides for this automatic destruction. But she said there also are practical reasons, like an overpopulated database which could cause backlogs in the system and delays in important cases, that might make increased DNA collection a problem in Michigan.

Gill said he could not estimate the number of people who would be added to Michigan's DNA database if the change goes into effect. But he said Michigan State Police is "confident" it would "be able to handle the increased workload" and that it would not mean any additional costs for the state.

Alanna Durkin, Detroit Free Press

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