INDIANAPOLIS – Tens of thousands of Hoosiers never convicted of a crime could find their DNA in state and federal databases under a bill making its way through the Indiana Senate.
The legislation is an attempt to take the next step with a scientific advance many consider to be the best crime-fighting tool in decades. But others wonder whether government is going too far and invading the privacy rights of citizens.
Why not just get everyones DNA when they are born? asked Sen. Tim Lanane, D-Anderson. There is still a presumption of innocence in our system.
Testing of deoxyribonucleic acid provides a genetic blueprint shared only by identical twins.
Indianas DNA database began in 1996 and has slowly been expanded over the years. Law enforcement currently takes DNA samples from all convicted felons, resulting in a database with about 122,000 samples.
Police around the state then use the database to see whether it matches evidence in unsolved crimes.
About 40 percent of the time the database returns a suspect, said Major Ed Littlejohn, head of the Indiana State Police Laboratory.
Statistically, the more samples in the database the more likely a crime can be solved.
We dont begin to maximize the potential of DNA technology until we are actually at the stage where we are preventing crimes, said Chris Asplen, a DNA consultant from Pennsylvania who testified last week in support of Senate Bill 24.
The nature of serial crimes is the sooner we identify the perpetrator the sooner we prevent crime, he said.
Only seven states have laws requiring everyone arrested for a felony to give their DNA, according to information given at last weeks hearing.
But Asplen said taking the DNA at the point of arrest – rather than conviction – can prevent crimes.
A Chicago study found that requiring DNA upon arrest could have prevented dozens of murders and rapes. For instance, Andre Crawford was arrested for felony theft in March 1993. His DNA was not taken upon his arrest.
Six months later, Crawford committed a murder and left DNA evidence at the crime scene.
Asplen said Crawfords DNA had been in the system from the theft arrest, police could have immediately caught him after the first homicide. Instead, Crawford went on to kill 10 women.
But there is a cost to running all the DNA samples.
According to a fiscal analysis by the Legislative Services Agency, it would cost $3.8 million annually to analyze and maintain the additional DNA samples.
Currently there is a $2 DNA sample processing fee included in court costs for all Hoosiers convicted of misdemeanors or felonies. That fee would have to increase to $11 to process the new felony arrestee DNA.
Whether you are going to get much bang for the buck is unclear, said Larry Landis, executive director of the Indiana Public Defender Council. We would spend millions in public funds upfront and all the savings are speculative.
But a representative from Strand Analytical Laboratories in Indianapolis gave members of the Senate Judiciary Committee last week a study that showed state and local government would save almost $20 million a year in law enforcement and judicial costs owing to the number of crimes being prevented.
Then there are the privacy concerns. The American Civil Liberties Union fought a measure last summer to expand the federal DNA database to arrestees, noting it could be a Fourth Amendment violation. This amendment protects people from unreasonable searches and seizures.
But the author of the bill, Sen. Joe Zakas, D-Granger, said initial court rulings have upheld the arrestee laws as constitutional.
In the only challenge to reach the state Supreme Court level, the Virginia Supreme Court ruled that the taking of DNA upon arrest is analogous to the taking of a suspects fingerprints upon arrest and was not an unlawful search under the Fourth Amendment.
Zakas and members of the committee last week did amend Senate Bill 24 to include a provision allowing those whose cases never result in formal charges or were later dismissed or acquitted to expunge the DNA from the database.
The process was described as fairly automatic, although the person would have to send a request to the Indiana State Police with supporting documentation.
The person falsely accused ought not bear any burden, Landis said. Its just another hoop to jump through. If you get dismissed, there should not only be an automatic expungement, there should be an apology.
Sen. John Broden, D-South Bend, voted for the bill but wants to tweak it so the removal is more automatic and people dont fall through the cracks.
Littlejohn said the state police might have to conduct more than 100 expungements a day under the law, something that would overwhelm the lab.
The high number is because 40 percent of cases statewide are dismissed, Landis said. Also, some people are arrested but not formally charged, and others who are charged with felonies later plead guilty to misdemeanors.
In comparison, there are few convictions that are overturned or vacated annually that would require the DNA to be removed.
Landis did say the public defender council has previously supported the general idea of the database, when convictions are entered and the presumption of innocence is gone. An added feature is that the DNA database can be used to exonerate people.
It cannot only convict the guilty but it can, and has, freed the innocent, said Sen. Richard Bray, R-Martinsville.
The bill passed out of committee 7-2 last week and now must go to the Senate Appropriations Committee because of its price tag.