Mandatory DNA Tests For
All Arrestees 'Probably Legal'
Richard Willing

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 says.
Earlier this month, the DNA commission urged Reno to oppose immediate testing of all arrestees because it would overtax the system.
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.