In Conn., arrests may require DNA tests

Some state leaders are renewing their efforts to pass a bill that would require DNA samples of suspected criminals to be taken at the time of arrest or arraignment, rather than only after conviction, as is allowed under current law.

Backers of the measure claim it will increase the number of DNA matches, but opponents say it would invade privacy and would be too costly.

During the last session of the General Assembly, Gov. M. Jodi Rell proposed that DNA samples be collected at the time of arrest for certain serious (charge A and B) felonies, such as murder, sexual assault and arson.

The legislation died, but Rell continues to support the measure, spokesman Christopher Cooper wrote in an e-mail to the News .

In her testimony on expanding the DNA database released last March, Rell said her office received “a great deal of opposition” to the requirement that a sample be taken before conviction.

“In response to these comments, I am willing to support a bill that would require offenders who are sentenced to prison for a felony conviction or certain serious misdemeanor convictions to provide a DNA sample when they enter prison,” Rell said in her testimony.

Cooper said the expanded DNA database would function as “an important law-enforcement tool,” improving the ability to match suspects to unsettled crimes and decreasing the number of individuals wrongly convicted.

But State Sen. Toni Harp, a Democrat who represents New Haven, said expanding the DNA database raises troubling questions of privacy and security.

“It sounds a lot like Big Brother to me,” Harp told the New Haven Register. “I just think that once you open the door, once you open Pandora’s box, you open it.”

State Rep. Michael Lawlor of East Haven, co-chairman of the General Assembly’s Judiciary Committee, said the procedure does not pose any danger of invasion of privacy.

Each DNA sample in the system is matched with a secure number, he said, so even if someone broke into the system, he would not be able to use the information.

“If you do not know how the system works, then you would have questions,” Lawlor said, “and I think I know a little bit more about security and privacy issues.”

For Dr. Michael Bourke, state administrator of the DNA database known as CODIS (Combined DNA Indexing System), data security is not a question, but a fact, since all necessary measures have been taken to ensure privacy.

Bourke said the DNA samples are locked in the CODIS lab in Meriden, Conn., and protected by an alarm system connected to the state police.

He added that any attempt by an employee to share the information constitutes a felony.

While Bourke agreed that the new database would lead to an increase in the number of matches made on crime scenes, he added that “the societal and legal aspects of the procedure are for legislators to determine.”

But Lawlor said innocent people wrongly convicted of crimes can be exonerated through the method.

“This benefit significantly outweighs the remote possibility that a misuse of the data might occur,” he said.

For her part, state Rep. Patricia Dillon of New Haven expressed concern about the amount of the state budget spent on the DNA project.

While Dillon is not sure whether it is a good idea to pursue the project, she said that money and attention should be spent on “reintegrating the criminals into the society,” rather than on prison complexes and the police.

“If we were swimming in money, then we would think about DNA,” Dillon said.

In 2002, Virginia was the first state to pass legislation calling for collecting DNA samples at the time of arrest for serious felonies.

Ten other states have adopted similar legislation since then.

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