Over the years, deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) technology has been instrumental in solving different crimes globally. However, retrieving the DNA samples of accused persons with no criminal charges has increasingly become controversial in the United States. On one side, the proponents argue that arrestee DNA collection can avert and address criminalities, while the opponents maintain that it infringes on an individual’s privacy rights. The 2005 DNA Fingerprint Act, passed in 2006, mandates that a DNA sample be obtained from any adult detained for a federal crime (Hu et al., 2017). In addition, in 2013, the United States Supreme Court’s verdict in the Maryland v. King case stated that gathering DNA from individuals accused of violent crimes did not contravene the fourth amendment (Hu et al., 2017). Currently, the federal government and around 30 states have authorized pre-conviction DNA collection for certain crimes, including juvenile arrests, felonies, and other misdemeanors (Dedrickson, 2017). The collection of arrestee DNA helps solve and avert crimes, promoting public safety.
Arguments Supporting Pre-Conviction DNA Collection
The compilation of accused persons’ DNA can address and prevent criminal offenses. In scenarios where the suspects are yet to be identified, comparing biological evidence from the crime scenes with the arrestee profiles in the DNA databanks may help pinpoint the perpetrator. This has been evidenced in the Maryland v. King case, whereby a DNA sample retrieved from Alonzo Jay King in 2009 matched an unsolved rape committed in 2003 (Hu et al., 2017). In this case, without a DNA test, the rape issue would have remained pending, and there is a likelihood that the suspect would have continued committing other related crimes. In addition, a Denver study analyzed five individuals’ crimes and linked them to 52 felonies, including 19 sexual offenses and 3 murders (Denver District Attorney’s Office, n.d.). The report suggests that these wrongdoings could have been avoided if DNA samples had been taken during the initial suspects’ arrest. Therefore, gathering arrestees’ DNA is significantly beneficial because it may lead to the apprehension of the actual culprits of past unresolved crimes, thus averting future felonies by convicting individuals before they re-offend.
Pre-conviction DNA collection can assist in exonerating innocent people from wrongful sentences. There have been several cases where DNA evidence has facilitated the clearance of individuals mistakenly accused of certain crimes. Research shows that by April 2017, DNA profiles exonerated at least 350 innocent people, some of whom were on death row (Dedrickson, 2017). In addition, the DNA databases also helped law enforcement agencies to accurately discover 149 true offenders of those crimes who were later sentenced for 147 additional felonies, including 35 murders and 77 sexual offenses (Dedrickson, 2017). This proves that arrestee DNA samples would have prevented the 350 wrongful convictions and the 147 violent crimes. Hence, compiling the DNA of persons under arrest may assist in keeping innocent people out of jail by identifying the actual perpetrators of various transgressions.
Arguments Against Pre-Conviction DNA Collection
The retrieval of accused persons’ DNA is considered an infringement of human rights. There have been growing concerns from civil rights activists that the compilation and indefinite retention of arrestee DNA may violate an individual’s privacy (Hu et al., 2017). This is because a DNA sample has more private genetic details compared to fingerprints. Additionally, in 2008, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that the United Kingdom’s DNA retention for accused persons with no indictments violated the European Convention on Human Rights (Amelung & Machado, 2019). Similarly, research indicates that linking an arrestee’s DNA to other unsolved investigations defies the due process framework, which emphasizes an individual’s innocence until confirmed guilty (Hu et al., 2017). The process of deleting a DNA profile is also very costly for individuals. Sometimes, the individuals are expected to appear in court and hire lawyers. In some states, the fee for removing a DNA profile may range from $50 to $250, with some surpassing $500 (Beitsch, 2017). This proves that not only does gathering arrestees’ DNA infringe on individual rights, but it also places a financial burden on accused persons during the expungement procedures.
The genetic information stored in state and government databases may be subject to abuse. Since acquiring pre-conviction DNA is not authorized in all states, there are no standard rules to guide how the samples should be gathered, processed, and stored, leaving an opportunity for misuse (Hu et al., 2017). In addition, there are no policies to compel law enforcement agencies to remove DNA profiles for individuals with no indictments; hence there is no assurance that such data is erased. Furthermore, there have also been allegations that information stored in the DNA databanks may be used for unauthorized purposes. Some critics also argue that the databases served as avenues for perpetuating racial discrimination (Dedrickson, 2017). Thus, the lack of standard procedures to guide the gathering, processing, and storage of DNA samples in all states may provide leeway for data misuse.
The compilation of arrestee DNA is vital in guaranteeing public safety. It is indisputable that pre-conviction DNA may assist in accurately identifying suspects for past crimes, such as in the case of Maryland v. King. Additionally, these DNA profiles may be instrumental in exonerating innocent persons who have been wrongfully sentenced, especially those on death row (Dedrickson, 2017). It is the government and state’s responsibility to ensure public safety. Therefore, gathering arrestee DNA provides an opportunity to precisely identify perpetrators of different crimes at an early stage to prevent them from continually harming the public. Some critics may argue that obtaining pre-conviction DNA violates an individual’s privacy; however, research shows that the samples contain a tiny percentage of an individual’s genetic makeup (Dedrickson, 2017). Therefore, the profiles cannot reveal any private data about an individual’s appearance or health. Hence, collecting arrestee DNA may protect many lives because it helps identify and sentence criminals to prevent repeat offenses.
Several laws safeguard accused persons’ DNA profiles from abuse by state or government officials. Some opponents have claimed that the DNA samples in the databanks may be misused for purposes other than criminal inquiries. However, the DNA Fingerprint Act has issued provisions limiting the number of individuals accessing such databases and how the profiles are used (Hu et al., 2017). Additionally, different states have implemented stringent directives to guide DNA sample collection, analysis, and storage exercises. This proves that the security and safety of an individual’s DNA are guaranteed. Similarly, other critics argue that arrestee DNAs may be used to instigate racial discrimination. Nevertheless, research suggests that the composition of an accused person’s DNA samples cannot reveal their race or ethnicity (Dedrickson, 2017). Moreover, the states have implemented effective processes to delete DNA profiles of individuals with no convictions from the databases. Therefore, DNA databases are secure enough to guarantee the safety of individuals’ DNA profiles
Compiling the DNA samples from accused persons with no indictments has triggered a huge debate in the United States. Some individuals suggest that pre-conviction DNA sampling is beneficial in lowering the crime rate. This is because DNA profiles can accurately pinpoint perpetrators of different crimes to prevent future atrocities. Alternatively, other individuals argue that gathering arrestee DNA infringes privacy laws and is subject to abuse. Nevertheless, obtaining DNA from persons under arrest is pivotal in guaranteeing public safety because it helps identify suspects and incarcerate them to prevent repeat offenses. Additionally, several laws ensure the security of this sensitive information, and the DNA profiles of individuals with wrongful convictions are deleted to avoid possible misuse.
Amelung, N., & Machado, H. (2019). Affected for good or for evil: The formation of issue-publics that relate to the UK national DNA database. Public Understanding of Science, 28(5), 590-605.
Beitsch, R. (2017). DNA upon arrest: Solving cold cases or presuming guilt? Pewtrusts. Web.
Dedrickson, K. (2017). Universal DNA databases: A way to improve privacy? Journal of Law and the Biosciences, 4(3), 637-647.
Denver District Attorney’s Office. (n.d.). Denver’s study on preventable crimes. Web.
Hu, X., Naito, M. E., & del Carmen, R. V. (2017). Pre- and post-conviction DNA collection laws in the United States: An analysis of proposed model statutes. Journal of Criminal Justice and Law, 1(1), 22-41.