Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Police Already Screwing Up DNA Dragnet in Daytona Beach

Last Friday, we noted that a debate is brewing over the propriety of trying to resolve cases using DNA dragnets or sweeps; that is, taking a DNA sample via cheek swab from every arrestee and then comparing these to the unknown sample int he unsolved case.

The giving of the sample is supposed to be voluntary, as the current law in Florida only allows for mandatory samples from those convicted. "Supposed to be voluntary" is the operative phrase:

In a training video by the Police Department on how to swab suspects' mouths for DNA samples, the training officer describes how to do the procedure and asks the suspect to sign a consent form only after the swab. That's not legal. The suspect must give consent first, otherwise the swab violates the suspect's rights.

The training officer in the video committed another blunder. "If the subject refuses the form," he says, "note on the form that they've refused, go ahead and tag the evidence anyway." There ought to have been no evidence to start with if the subject refused to sign the form. After The News-Journal reported the training video's errors, Daytona Beach police Chief Mike Chitwood conceded that those aspects of the video were a mistake.

What if there'd been no news report?
And there within this closing question lies the point, as well intentioned as law enforcement may be in trying to solve a pending case, they simply can't be trusted to be guardians of constitutional rights of innocence individuals. But aside from the costs to the rights of the citizenry, what about the actual financial costs:

The dragnet raises more troubling questions than it answers. At $200 to $500 for each DNA test, who'll foot the bill in a period of budget reductions across the state? (Daytona Beach arrested 11,000 people last year. Assuming that half had consented to DNA swabs, that's $1.1 million to $2.75 million in DNA tests.)

For financial and constitutional reasons, it is imperative that law enforcement is properly trained to narrow the range of people that find themselves in this DNA net by allowing for consent before the taking of the sample and destroying the sample when the person is determined not to be the unknown perpetrator.

No comments: