This editorial will appear in Thursday’s print edition.
It took Richard Nixon to go to China, Bill Clinton to reform welfare and state Rep. Jeannie Darneille to push House Bill 2588.
That legislation, which passed out of the Public Safety & Emergency Preparedness Committee Tuesday, would require DNA samples to be collected from everyone booked for major felonies and two gross misdemeanors (stalking and violating a protection order).
Currently in this state, DNA samples are only taken upon conviction of major crimes. But in about half the other states, DNA is taken when a suspect is booked and then is entered into state and federal databases to see if it gets any matching “hits.” That system has led to solving numerous cold cases and even clearing the names of people wrongly convicted of crimes.
Darneille, a Tacoma Democrat and card-carrying member of the ACLU, has long been a champion of the underdog. She worked for years to make it easier for ex-cons to get back their voting rights, and she’s quick to challenge any proposed legislation that she thinks might have racist undertones or raise privacy concerns.
Back when she was chair of the House General Government Appropriations Committee, she shot down a previous version of the DNA sample bill she is now prime-sponsoring. After attending a seminar on the topic and doing more research, she says she had an “epiphany.” Now she understands how important taking DNA samples upon booking could be in solving cold cases, preventing new crimes, cutting law enforcement and judicial system costs, and eliminating innocent people from suspicion and even incarceration.
But what about privacy concerns? Because Washington’s constitution has been interpreted to offer greater privacy protection than the U.S. Constitution’s Fourth Amendment, Darneille says HB 2588 does something most other states don’t: It stipulates that the collected DNA can only be entered into state and federal databases after judicial review. At arraignment, a judge determines if there is probable cause for charging the suspect. If that happens, the DNA sample can be processed.
Suspects who are found not guilty or whose charges are reduced to a misdemeanor can ask that their DNA sample be destroyed and expunged from the DNA identification system.
The added cost of swabbing suspects’ cheeks for DNA and processing samples would be paid for by diverting 50 cents out of the $10 from every traffic ticket that goes to the Auto Theft Prevention Authority Account. That account is administered by the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs, which supports HB 2588.
This legislation would be an important tool for law enforcement, helping ensure that those who have committed crimes will answer for them and those who have been wrongly accused will be exonerated. It deserves passage this session.