Justice Department Finds DNA Collection From Arrestees Overloads Backlog In Crime Labs

March 30, 2009 12:00 am

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States Should Limit Collection To Convicted Offenders, Says ACLU

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WASHINGTON – In response to this month’s audit from the Justice Department’s Inspector General (IG) finding that excessive DNA collection laws exacerbate delays in DNA analysis, the American Civil Liberties Union reiterates its view that federal and state laws seeking to collect DNA samples from people not yet convicted of a crime are unconstitutional and problematic.

“The idea that DNA collection and analysis are the silver bullet for law enforcement has been debunked by accounts from law enforcement across the country,” said Caroline Fredrickson, Director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office. “This month’s audit from DOJ is further proof that excessive collection and over-reliance on DNA does more harm than good.”

According to the IG report, recent advancements in DNA technology have created increased demand for scientific analyses. That demand has created massive backlogs of DNA evidence throughout the nation. Overzealous collection of DNA has made the backlogs even worse.

Many states have conducted their own assessments on the status of DNA analysis with similar findings. The Illinois state auditor recently found that between 2002 and 2007 the backlog in Illinois’ crime labs has tripled, leading to an “inability to arrest suspects.” Michigan had a similar discovery since it passed a law in 2008 to collect DNA from all arrestees. Michigan State Police Captain Michael Thomas has noted that the expansion has put considerable stresses on his state’s ability to analyze DNA samples.

“The inspector general’s findings are consistent with what we are seeing in states all across the country – backlogs are growing and states are still pursuing legislation that aggravates those backlogs by expanding the collection of DNA,” said Larry Frankel, ACLU State Legislative Counsel. “This is essentially tossing more hay onto the pile while still searching for the needle. DNA is not a perfect science and it is also costly. In order to make our law enforcement systems as effective as possible, we should limit DNA collection to those cases, such as sexual assault, that it is most likely to help resolve.”

The ACLU also objects to the over-collection and storage of DNA on constitutional grounds.

“Scientific innovation has huge potential for the advancement of our society, but when it also opens the door to genetic profiling of citizens still presumed innocent, it shows its great potential for danger as well,” said Fredrickson. “Our criminal justice system recognizes that an individual is innocent until proven guilty. Permanently warehousing DNA from people not yet convicted of a crime violates their privacy, while making it more difficult to find those who have engaged in illegal activity.”

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