Thursday, March 1, 2012

How Expansive Should DNA Crime Databases Be?

Here in central Texas we recently saw a 1978 double murder solved when DNA from the murder was matched to DNA taken from a person charged with drunk driving years later. This makes this NPR story about an effort by Washington state lawmakers to expand DNA databases all the more prescient. 
The state of Washington still waits until conviction before taking genetic samples. There, the Legislature's resistance to expanded "DNA typing" has traditionally come from self-described civil libertarians like Democratic Rep. Jeannie Darneille. In recent years, Darneille killed two bills that would have allowed sampling at arrest. 
But this year, Darneille surprised other civil libertarians when she sponsored a bill that would allow police to sample DNA as soon as they arrest someone for certain serious felonies. Darneille says she changed her mind after hearing about a serial rapist in Tacoma who might have been caught earlier if his DNA had been sampled at arrest. 
"Let's say the person goes in for that auto theft and they aren't actually convicted of that, but they've committed these prior offenses, and they're going to commit more," Darneille says. "There's a chance that we could stop them from doing those additional crimes in the future."
We take fingerprints of people arrested but not yet convicted and can use them to identify not only the arrested person but also to compare them with prints taken from crime scenes so why should DNA be any different? In the Williamson County double homicide, DNA taken from an arrested person led to solving this cold case.

Let's hope that we see more cold cases solved as DNA collection efforts expand.

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