- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 7, 2001

The candidates running for attorney general of Virginia want to extend the collection of DNA evidence to include those who have been accused of a crime and not yet tried, despite objections that such measures are an invasion of privacy.
Republican candidate Jerry Kilgore said he wants authorities to take samples from those persons who have been arrested for violent crimes, including rape, murder, malicious wounding and armed robbery.
In response to Mr. Kilgore's plan, Democrat A. Donald McEachin said he wants police to obtain DNA from anyone arrested on any charge, be it shoplifting, drunken driving or homicide.
"It should be a routine part of the arresting procedure, much like fingerprinting," said Mr. McEachin's press secretary, Steve Vaughan. "Mr. Kilgore's plan is a little soft."
Both say expanding the pool of potential suspects would allow police to solve more crimes. The state began collecting blood and saliva samples from convicted felons in 1989, and since then the database has produced more than 400 hits where a convicted felon had been linked to a crime scene.
"It's no secret that an enhanced database increases the chances of solving crimes," said Mr. Kilgore, who served as public safety secretary under Gov. George F. Allen, a Republican.
If either of the plans is implemented, Virginia would become the first state in the country to collect DNA samples from suspects in addition to convicted felons.
Civil rights groups like the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) are worried about the candidates' stances, and call both plans an unconstitutional invasion of individual rights.
Kent Willis, executive director of the ACLU of Virginia, said DNA testing takes away a suspect's presumption of innocence. Such testing requires the use of body fluids, and the genetic information it yields is far more detailed than fingerprints or mug shots.
"No matter how you phrase it, DNA is a more invasive practice than taking a photograph or taking a fingerprint," Mr. Willis said. "It requires giving up a piece of your body, and it becomes a very sensitive issue when the government is allowed to have a piece of you."
Collecting DNA samples from suspects charged with offenses would require approval from the General Assembly. If either of the candidates' plans becomes law, Mr. Willis said the ACLU will consider challenging it in court.
"The courts will have to decide where to draw the line," Mr. Willis said. "At this point, why not take DNA when you're born and have it stored in a government computer? Our hope is that the courts draw the line at the jailhouse door."
Neither candidate believes his plan undermines the presumption of innocence. DNA testing, they say, is the fingerprinting of the future.
Mr. Kilgore said the DNA would remain on file even if the charges are dropped or the suspect is acquitted, just as fingerprints remain on file now. However, Mr. Vaughan said Mr. McEachin wants to delete a defendant's DNA sample from the database if he or she is acquitted.
Mr. Kilgore's plan includes eliminating a backlog of 44,000 DNA samples that have been collected from convicted felons and have not been entered into the database. He also calls for using mitochondrial DNA testing, an advanced form of technology that is able to analyze small pieces of genetic evidence that previously could not be used by police.
Virginia was the first state to begin collecting DNA samples from convicted felons and has more than 150,000 genetic fingerprints on file, making it one of the largest databases in the country.

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide