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Justice Dept. wants to collect DNA samples from all arrestees

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Soon anyone arrested by a law enforcement agency may be required to submit to a DNA sample, according to several news reports. The federal government announced this plan in an effort to prevent violent crime. This proposed rule is being published in the Federal Register, to be followed by a 30-day comment period.

Comments and reactions to this announcement indicate just how divisive the issue is. Proponents argue that DNA sampling of arrested individuals has the power to keep violent criminals off the streets and prevent them from committing more crimes. In fact, a 2005 study conducted in Chicago found that 53 murders and rapes could have been prevented had the DNA sample been collected upon arrest. Sen. Jon Kyl, the Arizona senator who sponsored the 2005 law that gave the Justice Department this authority said, “Many innocent lives could have been saved had the government began this kind of DNA sampling in the 1990s when the technology to do so first became available.” Opponents are concerned that innocent citizens would be subject to criminal monitoring and their DNA could be held indefinitely, with all of their genetic information available for scrutiny. Jesselyn McCurdy, legislative counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union expressed her fears by stating, “Now innocent people’s DNA will be put into this huge database, and it will be very difficult for them to get it out if they are not charged or convicted of a crime.” Proponents respond that if the person arrested is not convicted, they can request the Justice Department to destroy the DNA sample.
If this plan goes into effect, as many as 1.2 million DNA profiles may be added per year to CODIS, the “Combined DNA Index System” or convicted offender database. This estimated number is based on the average 140,000 federal arrests made per year, with the balance expected from the DNA samples from detained non-US citizens, including permanent residents, whether they are charged with a crime or not.

As the use of forensic DNA revolutionizes the way suspects are identified, the judicial system must continue to evolve as well. Once reserved for only convicted hardened felons, collecting a DNA sample may one day be as commonplace as registering a social security number. This issue demonstrates the challenge lawmakers face: balancing personal liberty and justice for all.

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