State Sen. Jeannie Darneille is trying again to help protect the public against dangerous sex offenders. Maybe this year her fellow legislators will help her do that.
Since 2012, the Tacoma Democrat has sponsored legislation that would require collection of DNA samples from persons arrested for major felonies and two gross misdemeanors (stalking and violating a protection order). Current state law allows for DNA collection upon conviction or with a search warrant.
The problem with that is there can be a long time between arrest and conviction – and dangerous serial rapists can reoffend in that period. That’s what happened with Anthony Diaz, the poster boy for Senate Bill 6314 – legislation that Pierce County Prosecutor Mark Lindquist calls the “rape prevention bill.” If DNA had been collected from Diaz upon his first arrest, it’s unlikely he would have been free to victimize an additional 19 people, including two girls he raped in front of their mother.
Last June, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of a Maryland law similar to the one Darneille proposes. The federal government and 26 states currently allow DNA collection upon arrest for serious crimes.
But Washington’s constitution – specifically Article 1, Section 7 – affords more protection than the U.S. Constitution’s Fourth Amendment against unreasonable search and seizure. Darneille’s legislation addresses privacy concerns by requiring a judge to rule at arraignment whether there is probable cause to charge the suspect. Only then could a cheek swab of DNA be taken and entered into state and federal databases.
Suspects who are exonerated or have their charge reduced to a misdemeanor can ask that the sample be destroyed and removed from the DNA identification system.
Suspects in such crimes as sexual assault already are fingerprinted and photographed. Taking a cheek swab of their DNA is the 21st-century equivalent of those identification techniques and is actually much more reliable. It doesn’t make sense not to take advantage of the most up-to-date scientific methods available to protect public safety.
Privacy advocates should remember that DNA has been responsible not just for convicting suspects but for exonerating them. More than 300 incarcerated persons – some awaiting execution – have been freed because of DNA testing. It’s a powerful tool, and should be used more effectively in this state.