Lawmakers weigh expanding DNA collection

Posted January 14, 2016

— For the last five years, the state has taken DNA samples from suspects charged with violent felonies, and some lawmakers now want to expand that to all felony arrests.

Since the DNA collection program started in 2011, more than 32,000 people arrested in North Carolina have had their genetic profiles uploaded to a national database. Despite hundreds of possible hits, however, fewer than 200 of those people have been linked to other crimes.

DNA samples have matched up with six homicides, 49 sexual assaults and nine armed robberies, as well as more than 100 lesser crimes over the past few years, State Crime Lab officials told a legislative oversight committee on Thursday.

Still, nearly a third of the DNA kits that have been sent to the lab have been rejected because they were not taken correctly, are not eligible or are duplicates to information already in the database, officials said.

Expanding the program to all felonies would quadruple its current $2.5 million annual cost, officials said, and would require an investment in more lab space and equipment.

Rep. John Faircloth, R-Guilford, said the state should do whatever it can to put violent criminals behind bars.

"We need to keep in mind that you can't really put a dollar figure on solving a murder or finding a rapist or other things that can be done with science, particularly DNA, in many cases," said Faircloth, a retired police chief.

The American Civil Liberties Union is against expanding the program, saying the state doesn't have the right to have a person's DNA before he or she is convicted of a crime.

"We worked hard to limit the crimes for which this intrusive, warrantless search could be allowed, and it is because of these serious privacy concerns, as well as the increased costs and time associated with vastly expanding the collection of DNA on arrest, that we oppose this proposal," Sarah Preston, acting executive director of the North Carolina chapter of the ACLU.

The oversight committee plans to gather more information and make a recommendation by April.


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