- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 13, 2002

Fingerprinting criminals has been used for a century as a fair and objective means of identifying perpetrators. Modern science has given crime-fighters another tool DNA testing and the state of Virginia wants to employ it in the fight against violent crime. Virginia officials such as Attorney General Jerry W. Kilgore and State Sen. William C. Mims, a sponsor of the legislation, want to require that genetic samples be taken from every person arrested for a violent crime and stored in a DNA databank. Such a databank would greatly improve the odds of identifying those who, for example, commit sex crimes and other violent offenses. DNA evidence is nearly incontrovertible, and it is often the only clear evidence left at a crime scene. Moreover, DNA evidence can automatically eliminate, or at least exonerate, people suspected of having been involved in a specific crime. Several people who, it turns out, had been wrongly incarcerated for such crimes as rape or sexual assault were shown to be innocent of these offenses through DNA testing.

In a 14-1 vote, the Senate Courts Committee approved legislation that would make DNA testing of all violent criminals compulsory, and the House will debate companion legislation this week. DNA testing would "expand our crime-fighting power in a non-invasive manner that is constitutional," argues Mr. Mims.

Of course, there are those who object to the creation of a DNA bank most notably (and predictably) the American Civil Liberties Union. "This may be an effective technique for solving cases," said ACLU Associate Director Laura LaFay, but DNA testing must be balanced against "people's right to privacy and their right to their own genetic information." But, if so, then fingerprinting of suspects should also be disallowed on the same basis.

Let's not forget that Virginia's proposal to do DNA testing would affect only those charged with having committed violent crimes. Comparatively, anyone arrested even for nonviolent offenses such as DWI gets fingerprinted.

While the DNA proposal seems entirely reasonable and well within the bounds of established investigative practice, Gov. Mark Warner seems to have a problem with it, too. Mr. Warner said through a spokesman that he "has concerns about collecting DNA from anybody who has not been found guilty." No surprise there.

The bottom line, though, is that if fingerprinting suspects is OK, DNA testing should be too and DNA testing of violent criminals should be set up as soon as it's feasible to do so.

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