Weatherford Democrat

Online Only

February 13, 2013

Why collecting DNA from people who are arrested won't solve more crimes

(Continued)

Putting DNA from arrestees into databanks also exposes more innocent people to the risk of false accusation or conviction. Interpretation of DNA evidence from known offenders is straightforward, but crime scene samples often require subjective judgments that may lead to errors. What is more, cross-contamination and accidental sample switches have occurred in labs across the country. In one case in Nevada, a man spent four years in jail because an analyst accidentally switched his sample. In three more cases, erroneous DNA testing led to wrongful convictions that were overturned by subsequent DNA tests. A 2009 National Academy of Science report criticized the current lack of quality control in the forensic testing system. But improvement seems less likely if crime labs are inundated with DNA from arrestees. The FBI has also opposed confidential access for researchers who could independently assess government assertions about the accuracy of DNA databases.

In addition, arrestee testing exacerbates the racial disparities in DNA databases. Because African-Americans and Hispanics make up a disproportionate share of convicts, they are overrepresented in databases. Racial disparities in arrest rates, particularly for minor crimes like drug possession, can be even starker. Allowing states to bank DNA of arrestees will mean including disproportionate amounts of genetic information from African-Americans and Hispanics as compared to other groups.

King's case may seem like a poster-child for DNA database expansion, because his sample closed a serious unsolved case. But there is more to the story. King had at least six prior convictions at the time of his sentencing for the shotgun offense. A state law limited to taking DNA from convicted offenders could have authorized his testing. The same is true of dozens of other arrestee DNA "success stories."

That suggests that the line between arrest and conviction is the right place to locate the constitutional limit on the government's unending appetite for collecting our DNA. If the Supreme Court approves Maryland's law, then DNA samples will be routinely taken from people upon arrest just like fingerprints. Unlike fingerprints, however, the DNA samples will be used not to identify people, but to forever implicate them as one of the "usual suspects." Also unlike fingerprints, DNA samples convey a lot of information, like your sex, what you look like, whether you are adopted, or how old you might be. Some states have even decided, without judicial approval or new laws, to use DNA databases to find not only people in the database, but also their family members. And as technology evolves, who knows what is next? What we know now is that no good evidence shows that taking from DNA from arrestees helps to solve crimes in any meaningful way. We also know the cost to liberty and privacy. That's the tradeoff the Supreme Court should weigh.

Text Only
Online Only
  • Dangerous Darkies Logo.png Redskins not the only nickname to cause a stir

    Daniel Snyder has come under fire for refusing to change the mascot of his NFL team, the Washington Redskins. The Redskins, however, are far from being the only controversial mascot in sports history.  Here is a sampling of athletic teams from all areas of the sports world that were outside the norm.

    July 29, 2014 3 Photos

  • Screen Shot 2014-07-28 at 1.33.11 PM.png VIDEO: High-dive accident caught on tape

    A woman at a water park in Idaho leaped off a 22-foot high dive platform, then tried to pull herself back up with frightening results. Fortunately, she escaped with only a cut to her finger.

    July 29, 2014 1 Photo

  • Brother sues W.Va. senator over business loan

    U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin's brother claims he's owed $1.7 million that he loaned to keep a family carpet out of bankruptcy in the 1980s.

    July 28, 2014

  • How spy agencies keep their 'toys' from law enforcement

    A little over a decade ago, federal prosecutors used keystroke logging software to steal the encryption password of an alleged New Jersey mobster, Nicodemo Scarfo Jr., so they could get evidence from his computer to be used at his trial.

    July 28, 2014

  • HallofFameBraves.jpg Hall of Fame adds businesslike Braves, Frank Thomas, managers La Russa and Torre

    Atlanta Braves pitchers Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine, and their manager, Bobby Cox, dominated much of baseball during the 1990s. This weekend they went into the Hall of Fame together.

    July 28, 2014 1 Photo

  • cleaning supplies Don't judge mothers with messy homes

    I was building shelves in my garage when a neighbor girl, one of my 4-year-old daughter's friends, approached me and said, "I just saw in your house. It's pretty dirty. Norah's mommy needs to clean more."

    July 27, 2014 1 Photo

  • Russia's war on McDonald's takes aim at the Filet-o-Fish

    Russia said earlier this week that it had no intention of answering Western sanctions by making it harder for Western companies to conduct business in Russia.
    But all bets are off, apparently, when you threaten the Russian waistline.

    July 26, 2014

  • taylor.armerding.jpg Inequality crisis shot with factual problems, hypocrisy

    President Obama, various media and political liberals say inequality, of all things, is the defining issue of our times. Yet this message is delivered by multimillionaires and a president who jets from tee time to stump speech on the taxpayer's dime.
     

    July 26, 2014 1 Photo

  • Lindley, Tom.jpg Better police needed for college teams enticed to cheat

    The NCAA once cracked down on colleges that went too far luring top prospects, then it targeted teams that lathered players with special treatment. That was until the NCAA's get-tough approach backfired, rendering it ineffective and creating an opportunity for those who want to play dirty.

    July 26, 2014 1 Photo

  • Darth Vader is polling higher than all potential 2016 presidential candidates

    On the other hand, with a net favorability of -8, Jar Jar is considerably more popular than the U.S. Congress, which currently enjoys a net favorability rating of -65.

    July 25, 2014