As the Pennsylvania House ponders expanding DNA collection from those charged with crimes but not yet convicted, lawmakers are struggling to square their desire to fight crime with the capacity of a lab system already buckling under current demands.
The proposal would allow law enforcement to take DNA samples from those arrested on felony and certain misdemeanor charges.
Supporters point to dozens of other states that have enacted similar legislation, saying having such samples earlier helps close cases and exonerate innocents.
But law enforcement groups, which support expanded collection in theory, are still urging caution.
“Failure to properly plan and fund any new legislation would potentially cripple the existing DNA laboratory system, creating larger backlogs than we experience today and adversely affecting our ability to adequately serve the criminal justice community and the citizens of the commonwealth,” said State Police Lt. Col. Scott Snyder.
The state’s DNA labs are swamped already, and Bruce Beemer, of the Attorney General’s office, acknowledges the measure would only add to the burden.
“What good does it do to implement this kind of legislation if we’re on a 200- to 300-day backlog and none of this stuff is ever going to get looked at … until after somebody’s either convicted, or the case is dismissed or they’re exonerated?” he said.
Right now, DNA collection is permitted to only happen after a conviction.
Civil libertarians who oppose the proposal say that’s the appropriate time to collect information that requires a search — through a cotton swab inside someone else’s mouth.