If you are convicted of a violent crime in the state of New York, you are required to provide a DNA sample to authorities. This is kept on file and used by law enforcement to help identify the perpetrators of future crimes. Key to this practice is the idea that a DNA sample is taken after an individual has been found guilty.
This could soon change, however, if New York lawmakers pass Katie’s Law. The law would give law enforcement the right to take DNA samples from anyone arrested for a violent crime.
Arrest vs. Conviction
It is important to note the difference: DNA samples would be taken from suspects following arrest, rather than conviction. This means that someone who is wrongly accused and arrested would be required to submit a DNA sample and, even if acquitted, would have his or her most personal information listed next to convicted criminals’ information.
In Albany, the law was proposed by Democratic Assemblyman Joseph Morelle. Supporters of the bill include victims’ rights advocates and Rochester Mayor Robert Duffy. Among those opposing the law’s passage is the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which campaigned against Katie’s Law in other states and is voicing its opinion in New York as well.
Katie’s Law is gaining traction and, if 21 other states are any indication, it will likely pass.
A Slippery Slope?
The proposed law is named for a New Mexico college student who was raped and murdered. The man guilty of the crime was later arrested for burglary, but because DNA evidence was not collected until his conviction, he was not found guilty of Katie’s murder until more than three years later. Had DNA evidence been collected immediately following his arrest, the young woman’s murder would have been solved much earlier.
This is the argument for Katie’s Law: By collecting more DNA evidence, chances are good that law enforcement will be able to identify more individuals who are guilty of crimes.
It starts down a slippery slope, however. After that, why stop at those who have been arrested? Why not take DNA samples from every citizen? Surely, this would help law enforcement solve more crimes more quickly.
Opponents argue that the proposed law flies in the face of personal liberties as old as the country itself. Some have pointed out that the law contradicts the Fourth Amendment, which protects individuals from unreasonable search and seizure. Many argue that it goes against the presumption of innocence upon which our criminal justice system is based.
Indeed, according to a Congressional study, “Courts have not fully considered legal implications of recent extensions of DNA-collection to people whom the government has arrested but not tried or convicted.” According to the New York Times, criminal justice experts have spoken out against the practice, worrying that the U.S. is “becoming a genetic surveillance society.”
Under Governor George Pataki, New York expanded its DNA collection to individuals convicted of even minor crimes, including misdemeanors like simple assault, meaning that now even non-felons will not only have a permanent criminal record with no chance of expungement but their DNA will remain on file, allegedly safeguarded by a government agency forever. New York’s version of Katie’s Law may eventually be expanded to those accused of even petty offenses like trespassing or disorderly conduct. Are traffic infractions next? Will highway patrolmen start carrying portable DNA kits for cheek swabs along with every speeding ticket? Let’s hope not.
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