DNA Testing and the Presumption of Innocence in North Carolina

In May, the United States House of Representatives approved the Katie Sepich Enhanced DNA Collection Act of 2010, which makes funding available to states that require DNA samples from adults arrested for certain serious crimes, says CNET News. News 14 reports that Attorney General Roy Cooper has asked the state House Judicial Committee to approve legislation that would require felony arrestees to provide a DNA sample in line with the federal legislation. State House Rep. Wil Neumann, the bill sponsor, says it would prevent violent crimes by repeat offenders, save costly investigative resources and improve identification procedures.

Currently, unless a warrant is issued or consent is given, DNA is collected only after a conviction. According to the Carolina Journal, Daren Bakst, Director of Legal and Regulatory Studies for the John Locke Foundation, said, "If lawmakers approve this bill, North Carolina would treat innocent people as if they're guilty. The state would require for the first time that innocent people provide DNA to the government."

Identify Criminals, Exonerate Innocent

Rep. Harry Teague, sponsor of the federal bill, said law enforcement should be granted use of all technology available to them to reduce false convictions, solve cold cases and keep those who commit violent crime from walking the streets. Cooper told the House committee that he is sure the bill would take violent criminals off the street. He claims that other states that have enacted similar laws have had immediate success; for example, arrest for possession of a stolen car may reveal past commission of rapes, murders or other violent crimes. Cooper has said that in addition to catching criminals and getting them off the street earlier, the bill would help exonerate innocent people.

Liberty for Security

Sarah Preston, with the ACLU, said that the bill turns the concept of innocent until proven guilty on its head. Bakst says the bill runs afoul of the American justice system, violates individual privacy and liberty principles, and is likely unconstitutional.

He stated each arrestee should be presumed as innocent as a person who has never been arrested. Collecting DNA samples from innocent people and storing the information in state and national databases would mean there was really no basis for blocking government from taking DNA from every citizen, he said, adding that the U.S. Department of Justice's National Institute of Justice has warned that DNA collection from the general public was a distinct possibility.

Bakst also said the government's "poor record of protecting sensitive personal information" is a cause for concern. He claims it is also likely that the legislation violates people's Fourth Amendments rights, saying that an arrest alone does not drastically lessen a person's privacy expectations when it comes to DNA collection.

Expanding the FBI's Convicted Offender DNA Index System (CODIS) and state databases under this legislation has significant theoretical and practical ramifications. Those arrested for or facing felony criminal charges should contact a criminal defense lawyer to discuss their privacy interests and protect their constitutional rights.

For experienced criminal defense representation, contact lawyer Patrick Roberts of Roberts Law Group PLLC. The law firm defends North Carolina residents accused of crimes including DUI, sex crimes and other serious felony charges. Visit the firm's website at www.robertslawteam.com for more information.

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North Carolina vs. M.W.
Charge: Charge: Robbery with A Dangerous Weapon (4 Counts), First Degree Burglary, Conspiracy to Commit Robbery with A Dangerous Weapon
Facing: 12 - 17 years in prison
Result: Dismissed

An incarcerated defendant accused our client of participating in the robbery of a group of youth at a party. We were able to raise doubt as to the credibility of this individual. In the end, the prosecutor dismissed these charges, citing a lack of evidence.