The American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio will testify today before the Ohio Senate Judiciary Committee opposing Senate Bill 268. The legislation will expand the government’s ability to take DNA samples from felony arrestees by allowing the state retroactively to seize genetic information from past arrestees and those charged with a felony but not arrested. In 2009, the Ohio General Assembly passed S. B. 77, which allowed the state to obtain DNA samples from those arrested on felony charges.
“DNA is perhaps the most personal information our bodies contain, and the government must not simply take it without considering the privacy of Ohioans,” said ACLU of Ohio Associate Director Gary Daniels. “Those who have been arrested for a crime have not been found guilty in a court of law, nor have they had any opportunity to defend themselves. This system allows innocent people’s genetic information to become property of the state without any due process.”
“Neither this legislation nor current law provides meaningful opportunity for innocent Ohioans to remove their DNA from state databases if they were wrongfully accused of a crime,” added Daniels. “By expanding the power to collect DNA even further, state legislators will open a Pandora’s box where law enforcement may abuse their ability to arrest to perform an end-run around due process protections.”
S. B. 268 would direct the DNA information to the Bureau of Criminal Investigation to check against past records and keep on file. News reports have indicated that BCI and local law enforcement often have long backlogs on testing DNA evidence such as rape kits. On December 5, 2011, Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine recommended that local law enforcement send rape kits to BCI for testing, and pledged to add staff to accommodate the increase. Recently, the Department of Justice and state officials in Michigan and Illinois have warned legislators against adding additional DNA collection categories in order to avoid creating additional logjams.
“Unnecessarily collecting DNA will clog law enforcement systems, violate Ohioans’ privacy, and increase costs,” concluded Daniels. “State legislators should focus on testing rape kits and other evidence that has sat on shelves rather than adding more DNA to test that may lead to nothing.”