By LAUREN GIBBONS
Capital News Service
LANSING — Proposed legislation that would allow collection of DNA samples at any felony arrest could change the nature of police work in Michigan, but advocacy groups are split on how much personal information is too much.
Bills sponsored by Sens. Tonya Schuitmaker, R-Lawton, and Rick Jones, R-Grand Ledge, would allow on-scene investigators to collect DNA samples from suspects arrested for any felony. If passed, the bills would expand the state’s current DNA identification profiling system database.
Currently, the law allows DNA collection of suspects at the time of arrest only for certain crimes, including assault, murder, kidnapping, criminal sexual conduct, robbery, indecent exposure and prostitution. The measure went into effect in 2009.
Additional collections allowed under the bills would open the database to suspects for crimes such as theft, unlawful weapon possession, repeated drunken driving and some levels of drug possession or distribution.
The proposals would allow more streamlined investigations and eventual cost savings for police agencies, said Sgt. Chris Hawkins, legislative liaison for the State Police.
Especially in cases when repeat offenses are common, DNA collection upon arrest could assist in bringing defendants to court for all crimes associated with their DNA at the same time.
If a suspect is found responsible for more than one crime based on DNA comparison only after a conviction, Hawkins said the trial process would have to begin again when it could have been resolved originally.
“This is a way we can be much more efficient,” Hawkins said.
DNA samples of those not convicted would be automatically removed from the database, Hawkins said.
More than 20 states have similar policies on the books, including Ohio.
However, the idea of collecting genetic information for police work sparks some concern, both statewide and nationally.
The main objection involves overturned convictions if someone is arrested and exonerated, but his or her DNA remains in the database, said Shelli Weisberg, the legislative director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan.
The ACLU is working with lawmakers and other interested parties on the proposed legislation, Weisberg said.
Even if the bills pass, the organization hopes to see an easier method of removing DNA information about suspects who are cleared, she said.
“We’re not happy with the DNA collection upon arrest, but the movement has been going on for several years now,” Weisberg said. “At the very least, a method that would easily get the DNA out of the database after overturned convictions would improve the situation.”
A state court in Maryland deemed a similar law unconstitutional, citing invasion of the privacy of alleged criminals and a violation of the constitutional ban against unreasonable searches without a warrant.
The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to review the case next year.
Jones, who worked in law enforcement for more than 30 years prior to becoming a legislator, said the proposal could make police more efficient in solving older crimes and ease the minds of victims and families.
“We could close a lot of cold cases with this,” he said.
Jones said he’s seen bipartisan support for the bills as they moved through the legislative process thus far.
The legislation is in the Senate Judiciary Committee and would need to be reintroduced next year if it doesn’t pass by Dec. 31.
By LAUREN GIBBONS