Missouri lawmakers vote to mandate DNA tests after arrests

(CHRIS BLANK)   JEFFERSON CITY | Missouri police would start taking DNA samples along with booking photos and fingerprints of people arrested for a variety felonies under legislation headed to Gov. Jay Nixon.

Missouri already collects DNA samples from all convicted felons before they are released from prison. The bill would require that samples also be taken from anyone 17 or older who is arrested on suspicion of violent crimes, burglary and sex offenses.

If charges against an arrestee were dropped or never filed — or if the person was acquitted at trial — the state crime lab would have to discard the person’s DNA sample and profile within 30 days.

Supporters of the legislation, which received final approval Wednesday, said it could help catch the culprits in unsolved crimes.

Sponsoring Sen. Matt Bartle acknowledged during Senate debate Tuesday that the legislation could infringe on some civil liberties but said there is a big potential benefit by narrowing the potential suspects for unsolved crimes.

He also acknowledged the bill could create an incentive for police to arrest someone suspected of a crime — but where there is no probable cause — for an unrelated offense so that a DNA sample could be taken.

“You could arrest that person for another qualifying arrest, take this spit sample, find out they didn’t do it and cut that person loose,” said Bartle, a Lee’s Summit Republican who is a lawyer. “But we take fingerprints all the time, the DNA is the new thing.”

Despite the potential pitfalls, Bartle said the bill is worth it.

But some Democratic senators weren’t so sure and expressed fears about taking DNA samples before someone has been convicted of a crime. The critics didn’t allow the legislation to come to a vote in the Senate until supporters added provisions requiring DNA samples to be discarded when a suspect is not convicted.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, at least 15 other states take DNA samples when someone is arrested.

Since mandatory DNA collection for convicted felons began in Missouri in January 2005 through 2008, Bartle said that the additional samples entered into a DNA database aided almost 200 homicide investigations and resulted in DNA matches in 1,884 cases.

Bartle cited those statistics as justification for why “DNA profiling” outweighs the intrusions. He said that by narrowing who is investigated for crimes, it saves money and reduces the hassle upon the wrongly suspected.

Sen. Rita Heard Days was among those who raised privacy concerns.

“My concern is there are going to be people caught up in this whole DNA who really have no business being caught up in the first place,” said Days, a St. Louis Democrat.

The DNA samples bill is House Bill 152.


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