- BOSTON - Performing DNA tests
on everyone arrested and charged with a crime probably is permitted under
the Constitution, a federal DNA study group has concluded.
- That finding, made by a committee of the National Commission
on the Future of DNA Evidence, will be debated by the full 22-member panel
at its summer meeting here Monday.
- If approved by the panel, the finding will be forwarded
to Attorney General Janet Reno, who will use it to set Justice Department
policy and provide nonbinding guidelines to state law enforcement officials.
- Broad-based use of DNA tests on all people who are arrested
is unlikely to begin soon. But the committee's findings provide ammunition
for police and others who say that widespread testing would help link people
arrested for nonviolent crimes to many unsolved murders, rapes and other
violent crimes. "In New York City, we find that a substantial portion
of (violent felons) had also been arrested for much smaller offenses (before)
they were caught for the big ones," Police Commissioner Howard Safir
- Earlier this month, the DNA commission urged Reno to
oppose immediate testing of all arrestees because it would overtax the
- Nationally, states already are laboring to analyze and
add to a federal database the DNA of 1.4 million people who have been convicted
of serious crimes . Testing all arrestees, more than 15 million people
a year according to FBI estimates, would greatly increase that backlog.
- But the commission left open the question of whether
such tests should be permitted once the backlog is cleared up.
- Privacy advocates say that the tests would violate constitutional
protections against unreasonable searches and would give authorities access
to personal genetic information.
- A draft report says establishing DNA databases likely
would pass federal court scrutiny, provided they are "highly secure"
and the procedures for taking DNA are "minimally invasive."
- "As we move from (taking DNA from) blood samples
to lifting it right off of fingerprints, the invasiveness issue is going
to be resolved," says Jeffrey Thoma, a Ukiah, Calif., prosecutor who
worked on the report. "Resolving privacy concerns, like how to keep
the (DNA) data from being used to deny insurance or something, is something
we have to move much further on."
- DNA databases work by extracting DNA, a unique set of
genetic markers, and comparing it via computer with DNA left at crime scenes
in blood, semen and even perspiration.
- From 1992 to 1998, state crime laboratories and the FBI
made DNA matches in more than 425 crimes.