This is the second in a three part series on balancing civil liberties and public safety.
Deoxyribonucleic acid, aka DNA, contains the genetic instructions used in the development and function of all living organisms (at least according to Wikipedia). The unique strands that make up each one of us as individuals is a dramatic peek into the fabric of our individual selves. For all intents and purposes, we are defined by our DNA.
The realm of law enforcement has been capitalizing on this discovery for several years, making DNA identification the cutting edge of police forensic science. DNA is now routinely used to filter out suspects in unsolved cold cases, as well as recent serious crimes. In many instances, DNA evidence has led to the exoneration and release of convicted individuals, and many crimes have been solved with positive DNA sampling.
In fact, it would be fair to say that the use of DNA has provided balance to the scales of justice.
With that in mind, Rep. Jeannie Darneille, D-Tacoma, has sponsored HB 2588, a measure that would require the collection of DNA samples from subjects being booked into jail on major felonies (and a handful of gross misdemeanors). The lawmaker’s proposal was prompted by a 2005 sexual assault in Tacoma – the serial rapist involved would likely have been incarcerated prior to the ’05 rape if the provisions of this bill were to have been enforced.
Under current procedures, DNA samples are not taken until post-conviction, but this factor has provided a very small amount of DNA samples for comparison.
Despite the obvious benefit, some legislators have decided that this provision is unfair and un-American. In concert with the thin-skinned and easily offended ACLU, they have raised an objection against the measure that is significant only its misrepresentation of our legal system as a whole.
Judge for yourself. In a Trib article, Rep. Sherry Appleton, D-Poulsbo, is quoted on the so-called unconstitutional nature of HB 2588: “In this country, you are innocent until proven guilty; it’s not the other way.”
That statement completely misrepresents the purpose of DNA testing. The polymerase chain reaction test (PCR is the most common DNA test) is a means of identifying a single individual in exactly the same fashion as fingerprinting. Fingerprinting has been a part of the police booking procedure for decades; it is often the sole means of identifying subjects without I.D. who also refuse to provide their names to jail staff. DNA is simply a more useful and complete means of making a positive identification.
Let’s be clear. Conducting a test for the purpose of identifying an individual is not a punitive action. Whether the sample is for fingerprints or DNA, whether it is taken before or after conviction, should not matter to anyone…unless of course that person was or will be commit a crime of violence.
Instead, if you feel that it’s really necessary to speak out against the intrusion of the government into the lives of citizens, there are much more deserving targets. To begin that quest, look no further than the plight of law-abiding airline customers who are forced to partially disrobe, are subjected to scanning that digitally takes off the rest of the clothes, are groped in all the sensitive places, and then are abandoned with their belongings in a box without so much as a kiss goodnight.
That process is an infringement. Collecting a DNA sample from an arrested subject during the booking procedure is not. More importantly, those samples will one day lead to the arrests of violent individuals before they have a chance to find their next victim.
Once lawmakers realize that this DNA testing is not punishment, they can take the courageous step of defending the rights of victims and not the rights of those who prey upon them.