Expanding DNA sampling a bad law

As is always the case, only after a state budget is passed — sometimes weeks and months later — do all the gory details start to emerge.

The 2015-2016 budget that the North Carolina General Assembly finally approved in September is no exception. One particularly alarming part of that budget is a new law taking effect Dec. 1 which adds 35 offenses to a growing list of charges that mandate those accused give a DNA sample to law enforcement.

We consider this an extension of a bad law that infringes on personal rights, that essentially presumes a person is guilty of a crime even before the first court appearance.

We think the idea of mandatory DNA sampling of those convicted of serious or violent felonies is a good idea. Few crimes are one-time occurrences: a person who robs or assaults another person has probably done it before, or will again. Once convicted a person’s DNA sample can be used to connect the guilty party to other crimes — or just as importantly, absolve the person of suspicion so law enforcement can continue pursuing the guilty party.

However, requiring DNA samples be given by someone who has not been convicted of a crime and then storing that DNA permanently in a database is simply wrong, and is another step toward eroding personal freedom and the right to individual privacy.

Why don’t we simply require a DNA sample of everyone? Build a huge database of DNA of every person in the country. That way, when a crime is committed, all we need is for law enforcement to scour the scene for DNA samples, check the data base, then arrest the guilty parties. We could probably even skip the trial stage and send them directly to jail.

That might sound a little far-fetched, but it’s really not all that different than what we have in place in North Carolina now. It’s not that difficult to be accused of a crime, and we’ve seen time and time again in North Carolina where district attorneys are a little too overzealous in pursuing charges against individuals, even when evidence points a different direction, because one target is easier or makes better headlines.

Think back a few years, to 2006, when several Duke University lacrosse players who were accused of assaulting a woman during a party. The district attorney in that case ignored strong evidence the charges were inaccurate, failed to share that information with defense attorneys, and went after those Duke players with everything he had, giving dozens of interviews to national media and making allegations against many that simply wasn’t supported by the evidence — because getting the “win” was more important than finding the truth, getting a conviction against those individuals would further the DA’s political career.

Turns out the charges were bogus and the DA was eventually disbarred and sentenced to jail time.

Under today’s laws, those who were accused would have been required to offer a DNA sample to police, and that sample would be part of a permanent law enforcement database, all based on a bogus claim. Not only is this a clear violation of their right to privacy and to be free of governmental entanglement in their lives, it also puts them at risk — does anyone really believe such a database is safe from computer hackers who might take an interest in such information?

Again, North Carolina officials should collect DNA samples from all individuals convicted of a violent crime, but we should be moving away from laws that force those charged with crimes to give DNA samples, not expanding such laws. This is a bad law, and another example of how government continues, often quietly, creeping into the everyday lives of individuals.

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