New Florida law requires DNA in felony arrests
(MIAMI HERALD) TALLAHASSEE — Under a law signed by Gov. Charlie Crist on Tuesday, the DNA of any person accused of a felony in Florida will be added to a state database.
With Crist’s signature, Florida became the 20th state to require police to take a DNA sample, such as a mouth swab, from everyone charged with a felony. The state will hold onto that sample even if the felony charge is dismissed. Current law allows taking a DNA sample only after conviction of a felony or specified misdemeanors.
”This is common sense and the right thing to do,” Crist said at the bill-signing ceremony, at which he was accompanied by dozens of uniformed state troopers.
Civil libertarians argue that the new law vastly expands the government’s powers.
”Anti-big-government conservatives should be up in arms about this,” said Howard Simon, executive director of the ACLU of Florida. “Housing a person’s DNA in a criminal database renders that person an automatic suspect for any future crime — without warrant, probable cause or individualized suspicion.”
He said police should be required to obtain a warrant from a judge before collecting a DNA sample from a person charged with a felony. And he said he fears that innocent people’s inclusion in the database could be held against them by employers, insurers or others.
Crist dismissed such concerns: ”We need to protect first, and make sure that our people are safe,” he said.
But, for now at least, the new law is symbolic: The change hinges on the state’s receiving enough money to store and track all of the samples, and the Legislature did not provide any money for those purposes, according to spokeswoman Heather Smith of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.
The program is so expensive that it will be phased in over 10 years. Not until 2016, for example, will the state require DNA samples in felony drug arrests.
Among those celebrating the enactment of the law was Hilary Sessions of Valrico, whose daughter, Tiffany, disappeared 20 years ago at age 20 while attending the University of Florida.
”It’s going to make a big difference in terms of allowing law enforcement to solve cases a lot faster,” Sessions said. “It’s great for all the families of missing children so we can get resolution of their cases.”
The sponsor of the bill (SB 2276), Sen. Steve Oelrich, R-Gainesville, is a former Alachua County sheriff who investigated Sessions’ disappearance.
FDLE said it receives about 230 ”hits” each month in which a DNA sample helps solve a case. More than half a million samples are already in the state database.
A Senate analysis of the bill noted that taking DNA from people accused of crimes has raised constitutional issues in other states. The report said Virginia’s DNA-upon-arrest law was upheld by that state’s Supreme Court, but a similar law was struck down in Minnesota in 2006.
The only legislator in either chamber who cast a roll-call vote against the bill was Rep. John Legg, R-New Port Richey.
Reiterating his opposition, Legg said: “This is genetic information. For government to take that from individuals who have not been convicted of a crime, I think, expands government too much.”