Wed February 11, 2004
Missouri plan would bolster DNA sampling
By Matt Hackworth
KANSAS CITY – Missouri is one of just 13 states that don't have a mandatory D-N-A sampling program. But a plan bound for a final vote in the state senate tomorrow would require D-N-A samples from thousands of convicted criminals each year. Matt Hackworth reports:
Missouri already maintains a DNA database. The state's highway patrol catalogues genetic evidence collected from about 2,500 violent offenders each year. But Jackson County Prosecutor Mike Sanders says it's still a system that's too small.
The state of Missouri has a very limited, a very finite database collection system. In the state of Missouri, we've had roughly 75 DNA database solutions in the entire history of this state. So the state of Virginia has over 1,300 with this testing, we have only 75.
Sanders is pushing for the Senate proposal that is similar to one already in place in Virginia. The proposal would require anyone convicted of or pleading guilty to a felony to submit genetic information, most likely by a quick swab in the mouth. Sanders says it's beneficial to expand collecting D-N-A samples beyond violent offenders:
What we also looked at, in looking at VA, is, who are the people committing these violent offenses? Who are the most dangerous predators that are walking out streets? What we found is that almost 85 almost 87 percent of those that were the violent sexual predators, those committing the homicides, had no prior convictions for assault or sex offenses. These are people that are out committing home burglaries, stealing cars, writing bad checks people that under this expanded database, we could test for but we can't currently under Missouri state law.
The new law would also require anyone held in prison, like this one in Boonville, to offer their D-N-A sample to state authorities. But American Civil Liberties Union activists say by requiring genetic samples, inmates would be submitting evidence for crimes they did not commit. The A-C-L-U's Dick Kurtenbach says most D-N-A databases run foul of the constitutional guarantees on lawful search and seizure:
When DNA technology first became common in this country, we were told that it would only be used for the most violent of offenses. And now, we're seeing how far this slippery slope is going. And I think it's important to raise these kinds of privacy concerns at this stage of this process.
Kurtenbach also says he's worried about the personal information obtained in a D-N-A sample, and what the government could do with it. But he says he finds some comfort in provisions in the senate plan that restricts using the genetic information for law enforcement purposes only. Senator Matt Bartle authored the bill expanding D-N-A sampling and says he's sensitive to the concerns of civil libertarians. But Bartle says there's too much to be gained in requiring samples from all felons, both for prosecuting cases and for defending the innocent.
A good argument can be made that this is an exoneration tool as well. There are a lot of people in our state system that wouldn't otherwise be able to afford a DNA test that are now going to have one done at state expense.
Each test of D-N-A information costs about $30. Overall, the plan could cost $2 million in its first year, when as many as 100,000 state inmates would have to be sampled. But the costs should decline as just new felons alone are tested. Most of the testing and sampling program will be paid for by a 50 cent increase in traffic ticket fines. And while some worry about the state's responsibilities in holding such private information as a genetic fingerprint, law enforcement officials are eager to see what they'll find with even more D-N-A evidence when prosecuting crimes.