- Associated Press - Monday, February 13, 2017

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) - DNA samples could be collected after a person’s felony arrest instead of after a conviction under a measure endorsed Monday by a House panel.

Supporters say such a change could prevent future crimes because running an individual’s DNA profile though a federal database could help connect them to other crimes in Indiana or elsewhere, though the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana has lingering privacy concerns. More than half of all states allow for DNA collection in some form when a suspect is arrested or charged.

“This is one of the greatest law enforcement tools we can have to stop serial rapists and murderers,” Republican Rep. Greg Steuerwald told the Associated Press. “This is less intrusive than a blood test and probably less invasive than a fingerprint.”

In 2013, the Supreme Court ruled police could take DNA swabs from anyone arrested for a serious crime. Justice Anthony Kennedy, who wrote for the five-justice majority, compared the practice to other police booking procedures, like photographing or fingerprinting individuals.

Still, the ACLU of Indiana has privacy concerns, said Katie Blair, the group’s director of advocacy.

“We believe that when an individual is arrested, they should not be automatically forced to forfeit their right to genetic privacy,” she said, adding the orgniazation worries expanding DNA collection could create backlogs of testing in crime labs or lead to a skewed database where minorities are overrepresented.

The measure, which has been proposed several times, received its first ever committee hearing Monday, Steuerwald said. It was approved 11-0, sending it to the full House for consideration.

Last fall, a DNA sample collected in Ohio helped Indiana police link a man to the fatal shooting of John Clements, 82, in Zionsville, and two other attacks in October. Both Indiana and Ohio had an opportunity to collect DNA from the man, Damoine A. Wilcoxson, but only Ohio routinely collects DNA samples from arrestees.

Larry Landis, executive director of the Indiana Public Defender Council, did not oppose the measure but suggested adding a few “safeguards.”

As currently written, Steuerwald’s bill would allow for expungement of the DNA in some cases, including if charges are dropped or the arrestee is acquitted, if the individual chooses to pursue removing the DNA sample. Landis argued a better policy would be to make expungement automatic in cases where the arrest led to no conviction.

He also suggested requiring that police have probable cause before DNA collection, a process that could resemble the one required to allow blood tests.

Jayann Sepich, who successfully advocated for New Mexico’s version of the measure after her daughter Katie was raped and murdered in 2003, voiced her support for Indiana’s proposal. DNA collected from under Katie’s fingernails later led to the identification and arrest of her killer.

“We see incredible results. We’ve seen lives being saved, we’ve seen crimes being solved, resolution brought to victims,” Sepich said. “It has the power to prevent crimes.”

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