Senator says bill will boost DNA hits

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ATLANTA — Georgia could solve more crimes with DNA evidence if samples were taken like fingerprints during booking, according to the Senate Judiciary chairman.

Sen. Josh McKoon, R-Columbus, reacted to a story last week that appeared in The Augusta Chronicle that reported Georgia’s DNA database has helped solve fewer crimes than those in surrounding states with smaller populations.

McKoon said the reason is that current Georgia law only allows DNA samples to be taken after a felony conviction.

That means there are fewer opportunities to compare samples and that a perpetrator who’s never convicted won’t have DNA in the state’s database.

McKoon is sponsoring Senate Bill 135 to shift Georgia to taking samples on booking like 27 other states. He and others have failed to pass the proposal in the past, but last year he got the Senate to pass it 32-16.

The House Judiciary Committee stalled it until the U.S. Supreme Court could decide a Maryland case making a constitutional challenge. The court has since ruled that taking a person’s DNA is similar to fingerprints and that police can collect them even from people who aren’t convicted or even suspected of a specific crime.

“It’s been an uphill battle,” McKoon said. “It was an uphill battle before. ... I do think that to the extent that the constitutional issue has been raised, that’s been settled.”

His bill would also require the government to delete the DNA records if the person is ultimately not prosecuted or found not guilty.

“I would hope that that would move enough people in our direction,” he said.

But some civil-rights groups aren’t persuaded.

Sara J. Totonchi, executive director of the Southern Center for Human Rights, notes that crime labs are already behind in processing rape kits, not to mention the expense of additional DNA testing.

“Taking DNA upon arrest is placing a huge mandate on our already stretched law enforcement that will be as effective as chasing flies with a sledgehammer,” she said, adding that police already have authority to collect DNA from suspects.

The samples are an invasion of privacy that flies in the face of Americans’ notion of innocence until proven guilty, according to Debbie Seagraves, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia.

“We have law enforcement all over the country that is looking to build databanks with all kinds of information, and they don’t even know how they’re going to use it,” she said.

On the other hand, the Southern Legal Foundation supports taking samples on arrest, especially since the Supreme Court approved it.

“That certainly did pave the way for Georgia legitimately and legally change the framework of taking DNA samples,” said Shannon Goessling, director of the foundation and a former prosecutor.

The House committee will have a chance to vote on the bill when next year’s legislative session begins Jan. 13.


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