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Pennsylvania Next State to Cash in on DNA Ruling by Supreme Court


A committee proposed by the Pennsylvania state legislative body looks to pass a bill which would greatly expand police authority in the state to test suspects. The bill has already been approved in a 23-2 decision by the House Judiciary Committee, but only after amending the bill somewhat to reflect changes made after criticism that the bill would be too broad and invasive.

One of the major changes which the committee added to the proposed legislation would require law enforcement officials to not enter the data from DNA samples collected by suspects into national or state-wide databases until there is a preliminary court hearing. Additionally the information can be released if the suspect waives his right to a hearing. This would mean that suspects who are charged, however not convicted at the time, would be subjected to DNA testing and included in a national database. According to the committee’s executive director Tom Dymek, the amendments provide protections “That more closely conforms this bill with the law in the State of Maryland” Pennsylvania’s neighbor to the East.

Additionally it has been proposed by the committee that those suspects who are found to not be guilty of any crime after being subjected to DNA testing can request that their sample evidence be expunged and all their information removed from state and national databases.

Unwringing a bell

Detractors of the bill expanding testing procedures for un-convicted criminal suspects say that the proposed amendments don’t go nearly far enough to protect citizens for what they consider unreasonable search and seizure violations by the state. This type of genetic sampling by law enforcement has been strictly opposed by privacy advocates including of course the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) legal arm. In the case of Pennsylvania, the added provision for a “removal” of DNA information from databases and an expunged record sound trivial. The formula for removal of the information leaves much doubt that it could actually be performed and verified. Additionally, what would happen for any matches in DNA databases that were found in between the collection date and the suspect being cleared of all charges? Valid questions that need to be addressed say privacy advocates. They contend that once a given person is introduced to any government database, the chance of them being fully removed would be difficult to prove and unlikely to be performed.

Supreme Court ruling has opened the DNA floodgates

Pennsylvania is just the latest state to author a bill providing for enhanced DNA testing of suspects fingered for a crime. Georgia has just passed similar legislation earlier in November, becoming the 27th US state to implement the expanded testing. The increase in states looking to include DNA testing in their protocol for detention of criminal suspects is due to the decision earlier this year by the US Supreme Court. In a landmark ruling of a 5-4 majority, the high court upheld the Maryland law which allowed for DNA collection as part of the booking process for all persons brought into custody. With Maryland v. King now the law of the land, many states as varied as California and Georgia are hopping on the bandwagon to expand testing protocols. Justice Anthony Scalia who authored the dissenting opinion on the ruling, argued that the comparison of collection of biological material and fingerprinting were two very different things and that saying one as equally invasive as the other “taxes the credulity of the credulous”. As for Pennsylvania, there is no federal provision that stands in the way of the bill becoming state law in the near future.

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