A ‘Lil Swab Will Do ‘Ya

by Diane Dimond on April 27, 2009

Open Wide ...

Open Wide ...

What if a policeman approached and ordered you to open wide for a DNA mouth swab test? Suppose you were pulled over on suspicion of DWI, check fraud or skipping child support payments and suddenly you found yourself on the business end of a Q-tip. Would you submit or refuse and ask for your lawyer?

It’s not so far fetched a scenario. Both the FBI and police officials in at least 15 states have recently ratcheted up efforts to collect DNA samples from nearly all those who pass through their systems, whether they’re a hardened criminal or merely a suspect.

It used to be these tests were administered only to those actually convicted of a crime. But somewhere along the line

DNA Strands Help ID Guilty

DNA Strands Help ID Guilty

authorities determined that creating a bigger suspect pool of known people who have had run-ins with the law was a good thing. In short, they figured it was better to have too many DNA samples than not enough. Suddenly, a suspect in, say, a burglary case could be run through the DNA database to see if he was wanted for something much more serious like rape or murder.

It’s a good thing when police catch the bad guy, right?

Those if favor of swabbing all suspects point out that DNA samples have helped convict and remove from the streets thousands of criminals. It’s also helped exonerate more than 200 people wrongly convicted. They say that coupled with other evidence DNA is the capper to making an air tight case.

Those against the idea point to the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution which guards against unreasonable searches and seizures, including body searches. They fret that America is becoming a genetic surveillance society with a sort of swabs-are-us mentality. They have filed lawsuits to protect against what they see as the invasion of privacy.

DNA at Lab

DNA at Lab

Courts have generally upheld laws calling for the compulsory collection of DNA from convicts. The reasoning has been that once citizens commit a criminal act they have given up their rights. But, courts have not fully considered this expansion of DNA testing to those not yet found guilty of a crime. You can take it to the bank, however, those lawsuits are being prepared as you read this.

The field of forensic science goes way back. Even before it had such a fancy name, in the year 700, the Chinese were studying distinct fingerprint patterns on documents. In England, in 1784, a man named John Toms was found guilty of murder after a torn paper in his pocket matched a wad of paper in his pistol. In 1835 Scotland Yard was analyzing flaws in bullets to pair up with murder weapons.

As the commercial used to say, “We’ve come a long way, baby!” One of the latest jaw droppers in the forensic science field is called “touch DNA.” It’s only been around a few years and it’s a process whereby the scientist can return to any item a perpetrator has touched and, likely, lift the smallest skin cells from which DNA can be extracted.

Scientists used the technique recently in Boulder, Colorado when they reviewed evidence in the cold case of little Jon Benet Ramsey. Using the “touch DNA” process they were able to lift microscopic skin cells off the long johns she was

Killer Still At Large

Killer Still At Large

wearing the night she was murdered. An “unexplained third party” intruder has now been identified as belonging to that DNA. And this latest genetic material matches other male DNA previously gathered from a single blood drop found in Jon Benet’s underwear. The hard part, of course, will be to find the person with whom this mysterious DNA matches.

Maybe the fiend that took Jon Benet’s life will pop up in America’s newly expanded DNA data base some day. It’s a sure bet that other elusive criminals will. Think about it. If we can put away repeat offenders not only will countless outstanding crimes be solved, it might also spare other citizens from becoming victims.

I wonder if those against expanded DNA tests are also against other crime fighting techniques already in widespread use. Is taking a suspect’s fingerprints or blood a violation of privacy? How about if police ask for a Social Security number or home address or listen in on a suspect’s phone calls? All these tactics and more have been used for decades to help keep the rest of us safe from the criminal.

I have a problem with authority figures ordering me to do something I think is unfair. I worry about government encroachment on my rights. But if I’m not guilty of anything and submitting to such a test would save others from pain or death – why wouldn’t I help the police effort? I look at it like giving blood. Give and you could save a life.

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{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

DianeDimond April 27, 2009 at 5:38 am

Albuquerque Journal Reader Peter S. writes:

"What if health ins companies get access to the DNA database and start denying coverage to people who's DNA shows a propensity for this disease or that??'

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DianeDimond April 27, 2009 at 5:41 am

Peter:
health insurance companies don't get that kind of information now …. what makes you think they'd get it just because more DNA samples are being taken?
You can rest assured if that ever happened the insurance company involved would have the weight of Congress on its head. ~ DD

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DianeDimond April 27, 2009 at 2:20 pm

NOTE TO READERS: Many have wondered which are the 15 states that currently DNA test nearly all those arrested ?

California, Pennsylvania, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Alaska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota, Virginia, Tennessee, South Carolina, Michigan.

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Lyn April 28, 2009 at 12:00 am

I don;t have a problem with it personally – I like your "it;'s like giving blood" scenario – guess what, they won;t let me give blood here in the US but yet I am a doner on my driving license – however, no, I don;t have a problem, I would freely give it.

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jeff liddell April 28, 2009 at 6:47 pm

If DNA is discovered at a crime scene, any suspects should give freely of their DNA for the purpose of exoneration. Unless you plan on committing a crime in the future you do not have anything to worry about. If you do something stupid enough to get arrested, you should give your DNA to go into a general database for future use. Our constitution and bill of rights were written by revolutionaries who thoughts would today be considered radical thinking, we are all thankful that those free thinking radicals existed to create this country. The bill of rights are not outdated, just need to be applied to 21st century ideals and technology, the principles are just as sound today.

By the "absolute rights" of individuals is meant those which are so in their primary and strictest sense, such as would belong to their persons merely in a state of nature, and which every man is entitled to enjoy, whether out of society or in it. The rights of personal security, of personal liberty, and private property do not depend upon the Constitution for their existence. They existed before the Constitution was made, or the government was organized. These are what are termed the "absolute rights" of individuals, which belong to them independently of all government, and which all governments which derive their power from the consent of the governed were instituted to protect. People v. Berberrich (N. Y.) 20 Barb. 224, 229; McCartee v. Orphan Asylum Soc. (N. Y.) 9 Cow. 437, 511, 513, 18 Am. Dec. 516; People v. Toynbee (N. Y.) 2 Parker, Cr. R. 329, 369, 370 (quoting 1 Bl. Comm. 123).

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DianeDimond April 29, 2009 at 3:24 am

FaceBook Friend and Radio Talk Show Host Jerry Agar writes:

"Several years ago I was accused by people at the crime lab in Kansas City of being irresponsible when I told people on the radio that this was going to happen. My producer got mad at me as well. Governments will always do what is best for them if we let them.

Many in government find the Bill of Rights to be a major obstacle and inconvenience, and to submit our rights one by one because we "are not guilty of anything" is to set ourselves on a course towards having no rights at all.

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DianeDimond April 29, 2009 at 3:27 am

FaceBook Friend Mick Schultz writes:

"It might not be reasonable to stuff an attorney in your back pocket, but with attacks on our civil liberties, such as creating a DNA database "just to have", that seems a little "Big Brother" to me. Whether I'm guilty or not isn't the issue. The issue is that I'm not even a suspect…"

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DianeDimond April 29, 2009 at 3:29 am

Facebook friend Mel Horvtiz writes:

"DNA has gotten a lot of people off the hook and even with it we still have a jury that has the last word … I think its no big deal its just a fingerprint that helps with sex crimes. I'd worry (more) about web privacy."

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DianeDimond April 29, 2009 at 3:31 am

Facebook friend D.C. Hughes writes:

" >>But if I’m not guilty of anything and submitting to such a test<<

The first part is exactly the point. Beyond that, there's not much to stop insurance and/or health insurance companies or contractors from getting access to your DNA profile once it exists and looking for genetic markers that are considered actuarial risk factors…"

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DianeDimond April 29, 2009 at 3:36 am

Facebook friend Drew Rutberg of Las Vegas writes:

" Diane you never fail to be thought provoking and thats whay I enjoy watching and reading you.
DNA testing is a lot like a glass of red wine and a Marvin Gaye record.

There is a time and a place for it.

If I am suspected of raping a woman or killing someone they would not have to ask for my DNA i would volunteer it. By all means DNA should be taken when it can be useful in the solving of a violent crime.

For anything else it is a plain and simple invasion of privacy that can not and should not be tolerated.

Thank you for allowing me to weigh in."

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Janet Turner April 30, 2009 at 1:43 pm

I am on the "Take it …I have nothing to hide" side. I do understand both sides. Here in Muncie a while back there was a rape/murder comitted. It went unsolved for a long time. The police had DNA from the crime scene. The man that was guilty of this crime was actually questioned but let go. If this type of testing would have been allowed….he would have been found alot earlier than what he was….(2 years). Ironically, he was serving a sentence for rape in another state. I could not imagine being this girls parents. Bad enough that this had to happen..worse that they had to wait two years for what justice was given.

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DianeDimond April 30, 2009 at 8:48 pm

Web site reader Don U. Sr. writes:

" The new government will soon make all citizens give their DNA starting at birth. Then every one can be tracked due to the ID in any crime or for what ever reason they need it. This is not a new idea, but will soon be in use."

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DianeDimond May 4, 2009 at 5:58 pm

Thank you so much for writing….and for updating the number of states now using this powerful tool on those who go through their justice systems – not just the convicted.
My profound condolences on the loss of your daughter ~ DD

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DianeDimond May 4, 2009 at 5:59 pm

Albuquerque Journal reader Jayann S. writes:

" Dear Diane: I read your story on DNA with great interest.

After the brutal rape and murder of my daughter, Katie Sepich, our family became advocates of taking DNA upon felony arrest.

Katie was a joyous, intelligent 22-year-old graduate student at New Mexico State University on August 31, 2003. She was the victim of a completely random act of violence. As a result of her desperate efforts to fight off her attacker, DNA was found in the blood and skin under her fingernails. That's when we learned DNA was NOT taken upon arrest like fingerprints and mug shots.

Our family advocated for "Katie's Law" in New Mexico, which was passed in 2006 and took effect on January 1, 2007. Since that time 61 matches have been made to arrestee DNA in New Mexico, including a match to an unsolved homicide in Las Vegas, Nevada. The first match from a burglary arrest was made to a homicide one hour and fourteen minutes after the law went into effect.

When we began our "mission", five states had passed arrestee DNA laws.

We are still working to see these laws passed nationwide. On Friday, May 1st, Florida became the 18th state to pass. Vermont and Arkansas passed earlier this year. We believe that Colorado and Missouri may pass this week, and Illinois before the end of this month.

For more information on our advocacy, visit <a href=”http://www.dnasaves.org” target=”_blank”>www.dnasaves.org and also <a href=”http://www.katieslaw.org.” target=”_blank”>www.katieslaw.org. There are now many, many others working to see this powerful legislation working to solve cold cases and prevent crimes and in doing so save lives.

Thank you for your thoughtful article."

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DianeDimond May 6, 2009 at 2:43 pm

Diane,

Dallas County DA has a unit that investigates past convictions of current inmates to establish innocence or verify guilt.

"Dallas County has more exonerations than any other jurisdiction in the nation since state law began allowing post-conviction testing in 2001. In that time, more than 40 cases have received post-conviction DNA evidence analysis and the results have stunned the nation – to date, 19 cases were found to have wrongful convictions, and under DA Watkins' leadership ten innocent men have walked free."

DNA rocks. Mel

(check out the link below to learn more about a TV show on the Dallas DNA unit)

http://blogs.discovery.com/criminal_report/2009/0

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