ACLU of Massachusetts Warns that Random DNA Dragnets Hinder, Not Help, Crime Investigations

April 15, 2005 12:00 am

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BOSTON, MA — Reports that police have arrested a suspect in connection with the murder of Truro resident Christa Worthington based on a DNA sample taken more than a year ago highlights the importance of not over-whelming the state crime lab with ineffective and wasteful DNA roundups of ordinary citizens, the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts said today.

“The arrest of a suspect in this tragedy is a positive development,” said Carol Rose, Executive Director of the ACLU of Massachusetts. “But this case shows that massive DNA round-ups of hundreds or thousands of innocent people may actually hinder criminal investigations by increasing the backlog of work at the state crime lab.”

Cape and Islands District Attorney Michael O’Keefe today announced the arrest of Christopher M. McCowen, who reportedly worked as a trash hauler at Ms. Worthington’s home. Prosecutors said McCowen was linked to the crime by a DNA sample he gave investigators more than a year ago — in March 2004 — which matched DNA from Worthington’s body, but was not tested until last week.

“The police did not obtain the suspect’s DNA in the mass collection of DNA in Truro conducted earlier this year,” said John Reinstein, Legal Director of the ACLU of Massachusetts. “Rather, the arrest in the Worthington case was the result of information that resulted from a more focused investigation.”

Massachusetts recently passed legislation expanding substantially the number of people in the Massachusetts DNA database by requiring anyone who has been convicted of any felony to provide a DNA sample, even when the crime is not likely to involve biological evidence.

“A major problem in the expansion of DNA databases in Massachusetts and across the country has been the difficulty in clearing up the backlog of untested DNA samples obtained from those who have committed violent crimes and sex offenses,” said Reinstein. “Broadening the statute to include all felons was unlikely to result a significant number of so-called ‘cold hits,’ evidence leading to the arrest of an unsolved crime. The chance that a forger will have committed a murder is remote.”

The ACLU of Massachusetts has called the use of widespread DNA sweeps unproductive and, when coerced, a potential violation of Fourth Amendment rights of individuals asked to give such samples.

To link to a recent University of Nebraska study of DNA sweeps that illustrates some of these problems, go to:

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