Pa. House panel considers collecting DNA at arrest

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HARRISBURG -- Prosecutors and victim advocates urged a House panel Tuesday to support requiring collection of DNA from people arrested for -- but not yet convicted of -- certain serious crimes.

Currently, state law requires DNA samples to be taken from people who are convicted of felonies and certain misdemeanors. The House Judiciary Committee is considering legislation by Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi, R-Delaware, that calls for collection of DNA at the time of arrest from people charged with murder and felony sex offenses, along with certain other serious crimes. The bill cleared the Senate 38-9 in June.

Representatives of the Pennsylvania district attorneys and attorney general's office -- as well as the mother, turned advocate, of a 22-year-old woman who was murdered in New Mexico in 2003 -- told House members Tuesday that taking DNA samples at arrest would help authorities solve crimes. In some cases, they said, this would prevent rapes and murders.

Twenty-eight U.S. states and the federal government require the collection of DNA at certain arrests, said David Freed, Cumberland County district attorney and president of the Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association. One of those laws -- from Maryland -- survived a challenge to the Supreme Court, which ruled in June that police can take genetic samples in arrests for serious crimes.

A representative of the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania testified against the bill, saying that taking DNA at the time of arrest turns on its head the premise that defendants are considered innocent until they are proven guilty.

"This person has been arrested for one crime," said Andy Hoover, legislative director for the ACLU of Pennsylvania. "The government has no other evidence that they are a suspect in any other crime, but putting them into the database makes them a suspect indefinitely."

But committee members sounded receptive to the change.

"From my perspective, if you put arrestee information into the lab, this database system and you solve one more murder or one more rape that doesn't occur because you have the system, then that's enough," said Rep. Bryan Barbin, D-Cambria. "You're making an academic argument about something that has real consequences."

The legislation also makes other changes to DNA collection in Pennsylvania. It would expand DNA collection at conviction to additional misdemeanors, including those requiring registration as a sex offender. It also would allow the police to search the state database for profiles likely to be those of close relatives of a person whose DNA was found at a crime scene.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Ron Marsico, R-Dauphin, said he plans to bring up the bill for a vote next week.


Karen Langley: klangley@post-gazette.com or 1-717-787-2141.

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