DNA database bill should be deep-sixed

A few years back, I hosted a nationally-syndicated radio program, modestly called “Bob Barr’s Laws of the Universe.”  One of the laws most frequently cited during the three years I hosted the weekly show, was Law Number Three:  “No matter how much information government has, it always wants more.”  This came to mind recently as I read of a piece of legislation introduced in the Georgia General Assembly by Rep. Rob Teilhet, a Democrat from Smyrna and a candidate for state Attorney General.

Teilhet’s bill, HB 1033, would vastly expand the size of the DNA database already maintained by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, by empowering the state to take a DNA sample from any person who is arrested for any felony.  I suspect many laypersons will wildly cheer such legislation, as yet another way to “get tough” on criminals and prevent crime.  I am sure candidate Teilhet hopes the voters will perceive his legislation in such light.

It is, however, more than a little troubling that an attorney seeking to become Georgia’s top lawyer charged with protecting the civil liberties of all persons in our state, would cavalierly dismiss the serious constitutional concerns embedded in a law mandating that a person not convicted of any offense whatsoever should be forced to surrender their DNA to the government.

Supporters of this and similar measures that have been enacted in other states (including, of course, California), claim that collecting DNA samples can help solve crimes and possibly aid in identifying persons who have other charges pending against them.  All that may be true; but if we start gauging the powers sought by government to gather evidence from and about individuals, against nothing more the possibility that doing so might help law enforcement, then the ink with which our country’s and our state’s constitutions were writ, might as well have been penned with disappearing ink.

A person arrested for an alleged offense has not yet been proved to have done anything wrong.  He’s had no day in court, no chance to defend himself, and been afforded no opportunity to challenge the charges against him. Arrest in our state as in many others, can rest on a foundation no stronger than a fellow citizen’s opinion; perhaps one bearing a grudge.  All those important, time-honored and constitutionally-based limits on government-coerced evidence are undercut by forced collection of a person’s most private information at the start of the process rather than at the end. 

While Rep. Teilhet obviously has read the current law in Georgia regarding collection of DNA samples from felons (since his proposal refers to the existing statute), perhaps others who might support his bill are not yet familiar with the already-extensive database of DNA information maintained by Georgia.  For example, anybody convicted of a serious offense of a sexual nature, as well as anyone incarcerated for a felony or those on probation for serious offenses, is already required to give their DNA to the state.  

Teilhet, like other DNA-database advocates, attempts to sooth his critics by claiming the legislation he pushes provides adequate protection against improper use or dissemination of the DNA information, and for removing the information if a person is not later convicted.  Closer examination of the current law and of Teilhet’s proposed expansion of it, however, shows clearly the “protections” are inadequate.  Information collected now or under Teilhet’s legislation would be available to virtually any law enforcement or prosecution agency requesting it.  And, removing the information from the database if the person is later exonerated depends solely on the person himself having the knowledge and resources to seek such remedy, rather than being the responsibility of the government itself to correct its mistake.

HB 1033 is a constitutional wolf in sheep’s clothing and should not become law.

34 comments Add your comment

aclu

February 8th, 2010
6:26 am

They’ll file the DNA sample with the, only for identification, finger print they took for my driver’s license.

dogdownsouth

February 8th, 2010
7:08 am

simple remedy here bob amend the bill to read ……… ( if convicted of a felony DNA must be given ) viola civil rights restored criminals on file ta-da!!!!

lawandorder

February 8th, 2010
7:25 am

Criminals lie? DNA don’t lie. The only people that need to worry about this would be criminals. Let’s face reality for a change.

bob

February 8th, 2010
7:50 am

Lawandorder, if you are correct, maybe everyone, charged or not, should have prints and DNA taken. Also, only criminals need to worry about getting their homes raided by police so lets lose that little right, if your innocent, let the cops come inside and look around, what will it hurt.

Joan Berry

February 8th, 2010
8:15 am

Let me give you a chilling example! Why DNA should be taken! ***On January 26, 1987, a man named Chester Dewayne Turner was arrested in California for assault with a deadly weapon. There was not enough evidence to convict him. His DNA was not taken. Turner was arrested a total of**** 21 times before being convicted of a crime that allowed his DNA to be taken. In 2003, after a rape conviction, his DNA was taken and it matched the crime scene evidence found on *****12 rape and murder victims, The first of these murders was committed in March of 1987, less than***** two months after his first felony arrest. He raped and murdered *****(twice) Diane Johnson. Then he went on to rape and murder Annette Ernest, Anita Fishman, Regina Washington, Debra Williams, Mary Edwards, Andrea Triplett, Deserae Jones. Natalie Price, Mildred Beasley, Paula Vance and Brenda Bries.
These are not merely names. They are daughters, some are mothers, all were loved. These are young women whose lives could have been spared. And two of these young women were carrying unborn children. Please visit – Johniaberry.org and dnasaves.org

Gospel Truth

February 8th, 2010
8:33 am

The Waistbandito Bomber would agree with Barr here. No DNA for no terrorists no how.

Remonda Swafford-Alleyne

February 8th, 2010
8:36 am

Then you tell me how you would go about finding the murders of our families, friends and loved ones?

Remonda Swafford-Alleyne

February 8th, 2010
8:36 am

Disgusted

February 8th, 2010
8:44 am

Now that the Georgia Senate has moved to protect us from being chased down and having a microchip implanted in us, it’s only fair that everybody submit a DNA sample. Just think–if law enforcement had possessed DNA samples from all English residents during the time of Jack the Ripper, we wouldn’t be wondering about the identity of that villain today.

And, of course, we need to have law enforcement walk-throughs of residences on a monthly basis–just for the protection of the citizens, of course. And next, we’ll need to put radio-controlled speed monitors in our vehicles, so that we can protect all residents from speeders and save millions of dollars in law enforcement funds. That will be convenient, for instead of suffering the embarrassment of being pulled over by a sheriff’s deputy, we can simply receive a private notice by mail to report to a local law enforcement office for arrest and processing.

Scout

February 8th, 2010
9:20 am

This is no different than giving a fingerprint or a photograph. A little swab of the inside of your mouth won’t hurt you. I think the military does that for all of their personnel now anyway ……….. if not they should ……… especially for those going into battle.

Pick your arguments Mr. Barr. This is not the one.

common sense

February 8th, 2010
9:41 am

The same Rob Teilhet who is running on a politically popular platform which includes forcing any sex offender to put a “No Candy Here” sign on their door during Halloween, even those deemed no risk to the community by the Sex Offender Registry Review Board (teenagers who had consensual sex, young men who said something sexual on the computer and never followed through). Studies show that sexual offenses do not rise on Halloween; however, children are twice as likely to get hit and killed by a car on Halloween than at any other time — but who is going to get elected on that?!? Much better to hype a threat that is, in reality, extremely remote, and then pretend to solve it. Here is a great article by a a forensic psychologist that gives the true facts:
http://forensicpsychologist.blogspot.com/2009/10/halloween-security-theater-endures.html
If I am arrested, but not convicted, NO ONE should take my DNA. We are becoming a police state, because that is what sells. I am extemely disappointed in Teilhet. He has no intention of protecting the rights of all Georgia’s citizens.

jconservative

February 8th, 2010
9:54 am

“Those who willingly give up their liberties in the name of security, deserve neither.”

geneautry

February 8th, 2010
10:14 am

This legislation will save many lives and the torture that goes with people that have been raped. Bob Barr is too far left.

Scott

February 8th, 2010
10:32 am

Three things:
1: A group of scientists and lawyers published a letter in the December issue of SCIENCE outlining concerns with the accuracy of DNA testing. Bottom line: what were once though to be “unique matches” are now being shown to be far less unique than actually thought. For all the tech, go here:
http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg20527424.700-unreliable-evidence-time-to-open-up-dna-databases.html?full=true
2. Here’s the nightmare scenario: You’re (wrongly) arrested. Your DNA is taken. You are exonerated. Your DNA stays in the database. There is a crime, and DNA at the scene “matches” yours (see above link). The cycle begins anew.
3. The whole argument of “The only people that need to worry about this would be criminals” chills me to the bone. Where does that logic stop? Should we all be giving urine samples on demand? Submitting to midnight searches of our property? After all, if I’m not doing anything wrong, I shouldn’t worry, right?

I have no problem with the DNA of the convicted being used. And once you’re a convicted felon, you’re a convicted felon, period. That’s public record. But arrested does not equal convicted. Innocent until proven guilty. That’s the way it works.

[...] Continue reading DNA database bill should be deep-sixed » [...]

Scout

February 8th, 2010
11:02 am

Scott:

“I have no problem with the DNA of the convicted being used. And once you’re a convicted felon, you’re a convicted felon, period. That’s public record. But arrested does not equal convicted. Innocent until proven guilty. That’s the way it works.”

Then why does one have to give up fingrprints, photographs, handwriting samples, height, weight, etc.? Aren’t they innocent until proven guilty.

We’re talking about a swab of the inside of the mouth here.

Scout

February 8th, 2010
11:04 am

P.S.

I would have no problem with documenting the “eye Iris” thing when it is fully developed also. Anything to properly identify someone is o.k. with me.

Swede Atlanta

February 8th, 2010
11:16 am

I agree this needs to be stopped. Until someone is convicted of a felony (and I would even suggest a violent felony) no DNA should be taken. I don’t trust the government’s use of any personally identifiable information.

Karen Foster

February 8th, 2010
11:24 am

Mr. Barr, many people have fears of the unknown. I would suggest you visit a crime lab and see exactly how the system works and what information is input into CODIS, the national DNA database. A DNA profile merely provides an identity, similar to a barcode on products at the store. I am absolutely certain that all suspects, except the guilty, would rather their DNA be shown on the internet and the evening news, rather than their mug shot. DNA is much less of a privacy intrusion than mug shots.

A DNA profile doesn’t have any psychological, medical or even racial information. Taking a DNA sample requires swabbing the inside of the mouth with a Q-Tip. It is easier on a suspect than taking finger prints. It also isn’t part of an arrest record, unlike fingerprints that employers and others can access. More guarded than the fingerprints.

Keep in mind that this bill is for “Felony Arrests.” Law enforcement don’t typically make a felony arrest based on a “He said, she said.”

It also occurs to me that perhaps you don’t realize how long it takes to get from arrest to conviction in Georgia’s Justice System. It takes several years; particularly in the most heinous and violent crimes. Should one victim be required to wait for that process to be completed before confirming or ruling out the suspect also was the individual who attacked them?

I have information on several court cases deeming collection of DNA on arrest to be constitutional. We do expect ACLU and defense attorneys to take this to the Supreme Court and we welcome that challenge. Until then, DNA protects the innocent and keeps the innocent out of jail.

If someone is arrested and charges are dropped or there is an acquittal the individual will merely be required to fill in a request form and attach it to documentation that shows charges were dropped or they were found “not guilty.” It won’t be rocket science. Simple request that could be filled out by their attorney at the time or by a PD.

Most people who haven’t gone through the system on either side would not understand the importance of this bill. It is critical that GA pass this bill or it will have names of murder or rape victims that will be known as “totally preventable crime.” GA will be a safe haven for criminals. Currently it is surrounded by states that already have DNA on all felony arrest legislation. It, also, may be housing criminals who have committed more heinous crimes in other states. Those criminal investigations are being held up because of delays in processing DNA in GA.

My daughter’s killer sat in a NH prison on a armed robbery conviction for almost 4 years before they input his DNA into CODIS. That’s 4 extra years of investigation. I’m assuming with your legal background you understand how much more difficult delays, such as that, create for a case.

DNA on all felony arrests will balance the scales of justice and stop letting people get away with murder, rape,and other heinous crimes. I urge you to contact me if you would like further information.

Swede Atlanta

February 8th, 2010
11:38 am

Karen Foster

My deepest condolences on your loss. I can appreciate your deep interest in this matter.

I completely agree the issue of ’speedy trial’ as provided for in the U.S. Constitution is problematic given modern trial procedure. Obviously delays can come from both sides, the prosecution and the defense. But I would rather see us attack that issue head on through procedural reform, etc. than use DNA collection as a partial stop-gap to address the issue.

I am concerned about allowing the government to collect DNA simply on the basis of an arrest. That is the epitome of a ’search and seizure’. While DNA itself doesn’t contain, for example, any medical information it can be used for many medical purposes; e.g. markers for types of cancer, etc.

I simply don’t believe we can trust the government with this kind of information.

Fred Scanling

February 8th, 2010
12:53 pm

Collecting the information before a final conviction is about the most serious violation of personal rights that I can imagine. What can they be thinking?

Ragnar Danneskjöld

February 8th, 2010
1:24 pm

“DNA database” sounds like another government make-work job for otherwise unemployable academics.

Rodney S.

February 8th, 2010
2:39 pm

I think collecting DNA from someone who has been arrested (but not convicted) of a felony is OK. This information could be used to successfully prosecute or exonerate. However, retaining this information in the case of an acquittal would seem a bit unreasonable. Retain it permanently for convicted felons and destroy it once all legal proceedings are resolved with innocent defendants. It seems like a reasonable compromise that only affects the guilty parties. If you’re arrested and innocent, it seems like you’d be all-to-willing to freely give up your DNA to help your case.

Algonquin J. Calhoun

February 8th, 2010
3:01 pm

Fred Scanling
February 8th, 2010
12:53 pm

Collecting the information before a final conviction is about the most serious violation of personal rights that I can imagine. What can they be thinking?

What they are thinking is that the majority of Georgians, who support every fascist initiative, will see this as a great idea. Defending the constitution is not a concern. As a matter of fact, if you go out and read parts of the Constitution to random members of the public and ask if they support it, you’ll get a preponderance of negative responses. See Rodney’s response, he’s typical.

[...] Barr has weighed in on the legislation, HB 1033, and finds some serious constitutional flaws: A person arrested for an alleged offense has not yet been proved to have done anything wrong. [...]

Ima Nidiot

February 8th, 2010
5:11 pm

The biggest issue with this is that anyone who gets arrested for a felony gets a permanent criminal record, by default.

Let’s say, due to some bad luck, your Georgia driver’s license is one-digit-off from that of a Habitual Violator (Georgia Driver’s License Act) and the cop misreads your DL number at a traffic stop. He would arrest you and charge you with a felony, as operating a motor vehicle as a HV is a felony, punishable with up to five years in prison. As soon as the mistake was identified, the charges would be dismissed, although your DNA would be taken at the time of booking, we would assume.

So now you have a record, like it or not. Think about it, how can you store and categorize DNA information on anyone unless their name is ‘in the system’? If you get falsely accused of a crime, you now have a record. If a potential employer does a background check, you’re in the same database as convicted felons, rapists, and murderers. Are you SURE that the information maintained by some poorly-paid government workers is accurate? A potential employer is not going to tell you that they found a record of an arrest, they just won’t hire you.

96SC

February 8th, 2010
5:18 pm

Bob, great article and I agree 100% with you concerning the governments lust for more information on ALL CITIZENS. Frist we start with suspected Felons, then Misdemeanors and pretty soon the DNA requirement will be required of all babies at birth just as are the requirements for newborn’s foot prints and issuance of social security numbers children. Info in the hands of tyrants equals POWER and CONTROL. The Constitution be damned.

CDW

February 8th, 2010
5:47 pm

“A little swab of the inside of your mouth won’t hurt you.”
Whether the process is painful or not is hardly the issue.

“The only people that need to worry about this would be criminals.”
Really? You are sure that every single person arrested is guilty of some crime? Police never make mistakes, no one ever falsely accuses another person of a crime, and it can never happen to you.

This is about our civil liberties. Civil liberties are those pesky little things that separate this great nation from being POLICE STATE.

From Wikipedia: Civil liberties are rights and freedoms that protect an individual from the state. Civil liberties set limits on government so that its members cannot abuse their power and interfere unduly with the lives of private citizens.

I find it frightening that so many of my fellow Atlantans either do not possess the most basic understanding of what is being violated by this proposal, or who do not care. The defense of civil liberties is important to ALL Americans because they protect ALL of us.

Jayann Sepich

February 8th, 2010
9:14 pm

New Mexico passesd felony arrestee DNA in 2006. The law was implemented in 2007. Since then New Mexico has identified 101 offenders and aided in the investigation of 125 cases based on matches from felony arrestees. Ten of the cases matched were violent homicides. Eighteen were violent sexual assaults. Ten murderers were stopped due to this law. That means they could not kill again. Eighteen sexual predators were prevented from assaulting again.

Why do I care so much? Because my daughter Katie Sepich, a 22-year old graduate student, was brutally raped and murdered in New Mexico in 2003. Our family truly knows the pain of burying a much-loved child. This law can save lives.

The DNA molecule has over three billion markers. Only 13 of these go into CODIS (the forensic DNA database) and these thirteen markers have been specifically selected by genetic scientists because they are non-coding. They contain absolutely no genetic information. There is no potential for any genetic, medical or private information to be revealed from these thirteen markers. It is truly no different than a fingerprint. Except it is more acccurate.

A cheek swab that renders a profile of only thirteen markers which have no genetic information is no more invasive of one’s body nor one’s privacy than a fingerprint. But it has the power to not only solve crimes, but prevent crimes, which means saving precious lives.

Gospel Truth

February 9th, 2010
8:46 am

Time for a prayer.

Pray4Peace

February 9th, 2010
5:32 pm

Mr. Barr is right. Innocent until proven guilty is a right we should not eliminate.

Of course, if you are in California, you will probably be convicted of something. The formerly drug-addicted son of a woman I know has spent 14 of a 25-to-life sentence in prison. He was arrested in his late twenties for watching someone else’s drug deal from 30 feet away. Wouldn’t a few years in prison and some drug rehab cost less than the $52,000+ each year for each inmate. When he was 17 he foolishly burgularized two neighbor’s houses. He was punished and got a strike for each. That’s Caifornia for you….

ugaaccountant

February 9th, 2010
5:54 pm

I’d like to take an interest in this matter. Could someone please tell me how this is an abuse of goverenmental power? Isn’t this just the modern equivalent of a fingerprint? Is the argument that law enforcement should not have any identifying information about us whatsoever until the point we are a convicted criminal? If so, I am interested in hearing why? If we can’t trust the government/police with basic information, isn’t the system failing at a much more basic level than this?

Dilly Dally

February 9th, 2010
8:10 pm

oblama will inforce this issue. He must go. circling drain is USA.

Tim

February 15th, 2010
8:50 pm

Bob, please explain why the government is allowed to take fingerprints at the time of arrest. Bob you were the United States Attorney for the Northern District of Georgia. Did you stop the DEA and FBI from taking fingerprints of those arrested? Why did you allow these Federal Agents to take the prints of innocent until proven guilty arrestees during your watch? You were tough on criminals Bob and a joy to work with, about the time you decided to run against John Linder you seemed to have lost your mind. I do find it ironic that for years you blasted the AJC as a paper not worth reading and now they are printing your thoughts and ideas.