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Under New Senate Bill, Police May Be Allowed To Take DNA From Suspects

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RALEIGH — Police officers may soon be gathering more than fingerprints when they book a suspect. A state Senate committee has passed a proposal to allow officers to collect DNA from people arrested for felonies.

Senate Bill 165asks for $40,000 to take the first step in cataloging every felony suspect picked up by police. Supporters of the bill say North Carolina needs a statewide DNA database.

"This bill will establish three pilot programs in Robeson, Forsyth and Halifax counties which would start a DNA bank in North Carolina," saysSen. Tony Rand, D-Cumberland.

The new DNA bank would organize how information is stored and made accessible to investigators just like fingerprints have been used for years.

"You might find body fluids and no fingerprints. You might find fingerprints and no body fluids, but you would do whatever was necessary," Rand says.

Debra Ross, a lobbyist for theAmerican Civil Liberties Union, says the plan goes too far.

"What alarms me is that all you have to do is be arrested before somebody can take your DNA," Ross says. "So when you're arrested, there still hasn't been a probable cause hearing, but it's OK to charge you."

The other big obstacle for spreading the practice to all counties is money. It would require more lab technicians, more equipment and new training.

Some critics say the database will not be useful if you limit the class of suspects police can take samples from.

"You lessen the possibility of being able to get a match because the database would be limited," says Howard Cummings, Wake County Assistant District Attorney.

The bill will be considered by the full Senate on Monday. If the bill passes there, it will be sent to the House for approval.