State Politics

Arrested for felony? Give up the DNA

TALLAHASSEE — Get arrested on a felony charge from burglary to murder and expect not just to pose for a mug shot, but to submit spit.

A bill that passed the Florida Legislature on Friday and goes to the governor would require anyone arrested on a felony charge to submit DNA, usually a sample of saliva taken in a swab of a person’s cheek.

Right now, only people found guilty of certain crimes have to submit DNA to state and nationwide databases. The bill would broaden that requirement to people arrested on felony charges — before they’re found guilty — and greatly expand Florida’s DNA database.

Proponents say having the additional samples to run against DNA from current or cold cases will help solve crimes more quickly and prevent crime. Opponents say demanding DNA before a guilty verdict violates a person’s constitutional rights and that Florida’s law will likely wind up being challenged.

Currently, 46 states require people convicted of a felony to provide a DNA sample. But over the past few years, lawmakers have sped up the swabbing. Now anyone arrested on certain charges in more than a dozen states must provide DNA.

Rep. William Snyder, who sponsored the legislation in the Florida House, said months or even years can pass before a suspect is convicted and DNA collected. Collecting DNA on arrest would let that DNA be run against other cases earlier.

“This is an enormous policy change for the state of Florida,” said Snyder, R-Stuart, a law enforcement officer for more than 30 years.

Arrestees won’t be opening wide any time soon, however.

This year’s budget does not pay for the program and a court challenge could also complicate its implementation.

Snyder and other proponents say taking a saliva sample is no different from taking fingerprints and is constitutional. In Florida, supporters include the state’s attorney general and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, which maintains the state’s DNA database.

Opponents, however, including the American Civil Liberties Union, say taking a DNA sample is a violation of a person’s Fourth Amendment right against unreasonable search and seizure.

“The state is collecting intrusive medical data ... on people, many of whom are innocent or may not even be charged with a crime. That is wrong,” said ACLU of Florida executive director Howard Simon.

Under the proposed law (SB 2276), officials would phase in the collection of DNA over about a decade with certain types of felony arrests being added each year, like burglary one year and kidnapping the next.

Florida’s DNA database currently has more than 500,000 samples. But the bill would be a huge expansion. More than 500,000 people are arrested on felony charges in the state during the year. The bill does allow anyone who is not ultimately convicted could have their DNA removed from the database.