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Utah Lawmakers Consider Controversial DNA Collection Bill

But Utah legislators are considering a bill that some believe is a violation of that principle. If passed, the legislation would allow law enforcement agencies to collect DNA samples (for use in a criminal DNA database) from anyone arrested on a felony charge.

State law currently mandates that DNA samples should be taken from all individuals convicted of a felony. It also allows authorities at the time of booking to take DNA samples from arrestees who have been charged with a felony on a list of 77 offenses, mostly violent crimes. The proposed HB212 would expand the authority to take a DNA sample from anyone arrested on any felony charge.

Taking DNA samples after conviction does not violate the principle of innocent until proven guilty. But how can supporters of the bill justify collecting DNA samples from individuals who have not even been tried, much less convicted?

Proponents of the measure include Elizabeth Smart, the Salt Lake City woman who was abducted and held captive for nine months in 2002. Commenting on the bill, she said “If you didn't do anything, you don't have anything to fear.”

This argument is a common one. But it also creates a very slippery slope ideologically. The same logic could be used to give law enforcement carte blanche to search anyone and anywhere they choose without the need for a warrant or probable cause.

Moreover, there is an inherent danger associated with having one’s DNA filed in a criminal database. Although DNA is a powerful investigative tool and often quite accurate, mistakes can still be made. This is especially true when a DNA sample was mishandled or tainted in some way during the collection and storage processes.

The collecting of DNA samples prior to conviction is an issue that many states have faced with similar levels of controversy. Hopefully, Utah lawmakers will make the right choice and uphold the principle that each of us in indeed innocent until proven guilty.

Source: Deseret News, "Senate panel endorses bill allowing DNA sampling upon felony bookings," Dennis Romboy, Feb. 28, 2014

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