Vermont defense lawyers challenging expansion of DNA collection law

by jeeg 28. December 2011 21:30

Some Vermont defense attorneys are challenging the expansion of state law that allows DNA samples to be taken from more criminal suspects and the issue is likely to end up before the state Supreme Court.

Defense attorneys across the state are claiming that requiring more people to submit DNA samples, even when they haven't been convicted of crimes, raises privacy issues.

But prosecutors contend that providing DNA samples is no more intrusive than providing fingerprints or having one's picture taken.

"Requiring a DNA sample from all adults charged with a felony offense after arraignment violates an individual's right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures under both the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution, and Chapter I, Article 11 of the Vermont Constitution," said a memorandum of law written by attorney Rory Malone, who works out of the public defender's office in St. Albans.

Variations on Malone's arguments are being used by attorneys across the state.

Assistant Attorney General John Treadwell said he expected the Supreme Court to settle the issue. He says the law "is a valid statute, enacted by the Legislature, and entirely constitutional."

Vermont's original DNA law was expanded in 2005 to require that anyone convicted of a felony submit a DNA sample. In 2009 it was expanded again to include anyone arraigned on a felony, a misdemeanor count of domestic violence, or a misdemeanor sex offense requiring sex offender registration.

The Combined DNA Index System at the Vermont Forensic Lab in Waterbury has about 14,000 samples taken from known individuals and 400-500 samples taken from the scenes of unsolved crimes, Director Peg Schwartz told the Burlington Free Press.  Each sample contains a digital profile that is "essentially a string of numbers," Schwartz said.

The samples are routinely run against each other. When an individual's profile matches a sample taken from a crime scene lab officials call police. The law requires that the lab destroy DNA samples and delete genetic profiles taken in certain court cases, such as those that end in acquittals or dismissals.

The system was set up in the 1990s with the help of the parents of Patricia Scoville, the Stowe woman who was murdered in 1991 at age 28. The case was solved after a DNA test linked Scoville to Howard Godfrey, now 65 and serving a sentence of life in prison without parole.

Associated Press


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