MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

Oklahoma News

February 21, 2013

Okla. Senate committee approves DNA testing bill

— OKLAHOMA CITY — Anyone arrested in Oklahoma for a felony crime and some misdemeanors would be forced to submit a DNA sample to authorities under a bill approved Thursday by a Senate committee, despite concerns from civil libertarians that the measure goes too far.

The Senate Public Safety Committee unanimously approved the bill by Sen. Clark Jolley, who said it was requested by a woman whose daughter's 2004 rape and murder in Tulsa remains unsolved.

"She's passionate about it," said Jolley, R-Edmond. "She's hoping to bring closure and make sure that whoever murdered her daughter doesn't murder somebody else's child.

"My belief is that if we do this, we will get rapists and murderers off the street more rapidly than if we don't do it."

The bill would require anyone arrested on a felony complaint to submit a DNA sample, even if charges aren't filed. The bill also applies to misdemeanor arrests for certain crimes, including drug possession, assault and battery and domestic abuse.

Under current law, a conviction is required before a DNA sample can be taken.

The Oklahoma chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union opposes the measure, saying Oklahoma residents who are either never charged with a crime or acquitted could have their DNA entered into a national database.

"It is shocking that some politicians so quickly dismiss the fundamental principle of innocent until proven guilty," said Ryan Kiesel, executive director of ACLU of Oklahoma. "Bills like this have been defeated by bipartisan majorities in the past, and we urge lawmakers to again reject this attempt to build a database with the DNA of innocent Oklahomans."

The federal government and 27 states have laws that allow the collection of DNA from people who have been arrested but not yet convicted, but the constitutionality of such laws has been called into question. At the end of this month, the U.S. Supreme Court is expected to hear arguments in a Maryland case challenging whether it's legal for police to collect DNA samples from people under arrest. In that case, a man arrested on an assault charge who was linked to a 2003 rape is challenging whether the pre-conviction collection of his DNA violated his Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable search and seizures.

Jolley maintains that the state already is collecting mug shots and fingerprints of people who are arrested and collecting DNA is the next logical step, but University of Oklahoma constitutional law professor Joseph Thai says that step is a significant one.

"DNA provides not only a means of matching identity, but also a trove of detailed and intimate information about a person's genetic makeup," Thai wrote in an email to The Associated Press. "The privacy concerns from state-collection of DNA are categorically broader, deeper, and more serious than from mug shots and fingerprints. And those concerns are heightened when the collection is of those arrested but not charged, much less convicted, which makes it more likely that the DNA of innocent citizens will become part of the government's genetic database."

Jolley said the bill, which now heads to the full Senate Appropriations Committee that he chairs, may be modified to only require tests of those arrested for violent crimes, depending on the cost. Each DNA test costs about $1,000, according to a House fiscal analysis.

"If it would be difficult to afford all felonies and violent misdemeanors, I would prefer to get violent crimes only," Jolley said.

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