ATLANTA --- A bill awaiting Gov. Sonny Perdue's signature would substantially broaden how law enforcement can use DNA evidence collected in Georgia.
Currently, prosecutors and crime labs only have the authority to compare DNA from a suspect with DNA evidence collected in that particular crime. They can't check it against a statewide database of samples taken from nearly 150,000 offenders and 6,850 unsolved cases.
Senate Bill 430 would allow that comparison, which means suspects in multiple crimes are less likely to go undetected, prosecutors say.
Prosecutors cheer the measure, which raises worries among privacy advocates.
"There would be a potential for finding more perpetrators that we don't have the ability to do now," said David Lock, the chief assistant district attorney for Chatham County. "When you have a DNA sample lawfully obtained but can't check it against everybody, it eliminates the possibility it would match."
The American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia strongly opposed the initial version of the bill, which would have permitted a suspect's DNA to be stored in the database even if the suspect is never convicted of the crime.
It was later amended to allow the Georgia Bureau of Investigation to perform DNA comparisons only once per case, and only if requested by a law enforcement agency or a prosecutor.
The current legislation still doesn't sit well with the civil liberties group, and it will monitor how the new powers are used.
"We're always concerned, and we'll always be monitoring that any DNA collection and comparison" does not become a privacy issue, said Chara Jackson, the group's legal director.
Currently, the state can collect and store the DNA of people convicted of a felony and imprisoned in a state detention facility, and of felony probationers convicted of armed robbery or aggravated sex crimes.
The DNA database has helped solve 915 crimes since it was created in 2000, said John Bankhead, a spokesman for the GBI, which maintains the database. It has also matched DNA from offenders in Georgia to 206 cases in other states, he said.
Additionally, DNA evidence has helped exonerate seven Georgia inmates since 2005, according to the Innocence Project.
Reach Jake Armstrong at (404) 589-8424 or firstname.lastname@example.org.