ACLU of PA Questions O’Brien’s Proposal for More DNA Collection

July 22, 2009 12:00 am

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HARRISBURG- As Representative Dennis O’Brien of Philadelphia pushes today for his legislation to collect more DNA from some Pennsylvanians, the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania raised questions about the proposal’s effectiveness, legality, and costs.

O’Brien’s bill, House Bill 292, would require the Pennsylvania State Police to collect and maintain DNA samples from persons arrested for certain felonies. Under current law, DNA is collected from persons convicted of certain felonies.

“This idea is being pushed at a time when the legislature is considering what essential services it must cut due to the commonwealth’s revenue shortfall,” said Andy Hoover, legislative director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania. “Taking DNA samples from people who are considered innocent under the law is likely unconstitutional and places an unnecessary burden on law enforcement.”

In March, the Inspector General at the United State Department of Justice released an audit that found that state laws expanding DNA collection have led to significant delays in DNA analysis. Audits in Illinois and Michigan have similarly found massive backlogs due to increased DNA collection. And last month, the Los Angeles Police Department announced that it will no longer test DNA in sexual assault cases because its labs could not keep up with the high number of samples that had been collected.

“Science and technology have great potential for addressing crime, but science must be used wisely,” Hoover said. “When police are looking for a needle in a haystack, they don’t need more hay on the stack. But that’s exactly what HB 292 does.”

Hoover said that the budget mess alone is reason enough to oppose HB 292. The General Assembly continues to debate and negotiate the state budget, 22 days after the deadline to pass it. Yesterday the state House of Representatives voted not to concur with an amended budget passed by the state Senate. State leaders have not yet come to an agreement on how to fill a $3 billion budget shortfall.

“Representative O’Brien has not explained how the commonwealth would pay for this expansion of DNA collection,” Hoover said.

Last month a similar law went into effect in Michigan, but the legislature did not designate funding to pay for it. According to a report in USA Today, the new law was expected to bring in 6,000 additional DNA samples per year, but at the same time, Michigan had to close one of its seven crime labs.

“The evidence is in. HB 292 is a bad idea,” Hoover said.

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