For a second time in two years, the Pennsylvania Senate has passed a bill that would require DNA testing of suspects accused of certain crimes.
Currently, Pennsylvania law requires that perpetrators convicted of certain felonies submit DNA samples. This bill, sponsored by Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi, would extend DNA testing to those arrested for serious offenses even before they are convicted. It would also expand the number of offenses for which testing is required.
In 2011, both the House and the Senate passed competing versions of a similar bill.
“District attorneys across the state of Pennsylvania support Senate Bill 150 because it would save lives, it would prevent attacks against victims, it would reduce crime and it would promote conviction integrity,” said Greg Rowe, Chief of Legislation for the Philadelphia District Attorney’s office.
Proponents of the bill have compared the DNA sampling to other identification procedures conducted upon arrest, such as fingerprinting.
But Andy Hoover of the Philadelphia American Civil Liberties Union said the bill could violate state search and seizure protections.
“DNA sampling is much more invasive than fingerprinting. The government wants to stick a swab in a person’s mouth,” Hoover said.. “What happens then when their sample is sent to the database is they are now a suspect in all unsolved crimes.”
Critics also point out that the State Police, whose DNA testing resources are already stretched, wouldn’t be able to process many more DNA samples.
In an effort to address that problem, the bill staggers implementation over three years, allowing the State Police time to expand its DNA testing facility.
The Senate Appropriations Committee estimates that implementing the bill would require an initial $2.1 million investment, and about $400,000 a year thereafter.
“People who are trying to criticize this bill on a cost level I think are looking at it completely wrong,” said Erik Arneson, a spokesperson for Pileggi. “If you talk to the families of victims who could have not been raped or not been murdered because of the ability to get a violent criminal off the streets earlier, how do you do a cost benefit ratio there?”
Passage of the bill follows a recent US Supreme Court ruling that permits DNA sampling of arrestees suspected of serious crimes. The bill is now before the state house. It’s unclear whether lawmakers will act on the measure berfore their summer recess.