States are dramatically expanding controversial DNA sampling beyond convicted felons to include tens of thousands of suspects arrested on felony charges before they are tried.
Twelve states have laws that permit sampling for some or all felony arrests, up from five in 2006, the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) says. Another 21 are considering such proposals, according to DNAResource.com, which tracks DNA-related laws.
Provisions in most of the new laws call for destroying samples if suspects are acquitted or charges are dropped. After a sample is destroyed, the DNA cannot be matched to other crimes in the database.
The fast-growing legislation, once applied narrowly to sex offenders and convicted felons, worries civil liberties advocates who believe the testing amounts to a clumsy forensic dragnet.
"In our system, you are supposed to be innocent until proven guilty," says Maryland state Sen. Lisa Gladden, a Democrat, who opposed a DNA sampling plan offered by Gov. Martin O'Malley, also a Democrat.
Despite such objections, the technique is gaining popularity as a law-enforcement tool. The expansion "is definitely picking up steam," says Donna Lyons, criminal justice director at NCSL.
Beginning in July, South Dakota and Kansas will require all felony suspects to provide DNA samples. In January, California and North Dakota will do so. In California alone that could double the number of state samples in the federal DNA data bank from 1 million to 2 million, state Attorney General's Office spokesman Gareth Lacy says.
The state actions come as the federal government prepares to issue similar rules for taking samples from thousands of detainees in its custody, including suspected immigration violators, Justice Department spokesman Erik Ablin says.
The DNA samples, which contain an individual's unique genetic code, are compared against nearly 4million genetic profiles gleaned from crime scenes and other sources as part of a data bank run by the FBI to help investigate crimes. The FBI says the system has aided more than 40,000 investigations since 1990.
This month, the Maryland Legislature approved a less sweeping compromise of its law. It takes effect Jan. 1 and is expected to add 31,000 forensic profiles during the first year, says Kristen Mahoney, executive director of the state Office of Crime Control and Prevention.
North Dakota Republican state Rep. Lawrence Klemin says the expanded sampling program in his state is "a matter of public safety. … If we have a murderer or rapist out there, do we really have to go overboard in trying not to violate that person's privacy?"