Thursday, July 10, 2008

A victory for falsely accused men in S. Carolina: DNA samples can't be collected until conviction

The Governor of South Carolina wisely vetoed a bill that would have expanded existing state practice that allows DNA samples to be taken from convicted felons to permit such samples to be taken from anyone even charged with a felony. That's right -- the bill would have allowed DNA samples to be taken from the countless men falsely accused of rape. As the astute editorial below notes: "Many people are arrested on false charges or bad information, and why should they have to take the extra steps to make sure the information is expunged from their records?" Governor Mark Sanford refused to cave in to the public hysteria that is more concerned with convictions than protecting the innocent, and he vetoed the bill.

In a world where men are arrested for rape and held sometimes for months based on nothing more than even far-fetched allegations of one woman, their lives often destroyed beyond repair, it is nice to see a Governor who shows respect for the rights of those who are, by law, presumed innocent. So many people think nothing of treating men merely accused of rape as criminals that this courageous veto deserves to be applauded.


Governor was right to veto DNA bill

Published Wed, Jul 9, 2008 12:00 AM

When Gov. Mark Sanford vetoed a bill last week that would have expanded the use of genetic information in criminal cases, he was preventing the fingerprint of the 21st century from playing too prominent a role in the lives of South Carolinians.

The governor said collecting DNA samples when suspected felons are arrested is an invasion of privacy, and he is correct.

It's hard to gather support for a cause that involves people in jail, but anyone can be charged with a crime; proving it is another matter.

Beaufort County Sheriff P.J. Tanner has been seeking a suitable location for a DNA lab the County Council has funded. And last year the S.C. General Assembly approved a bill that began the creep of information-gathering. Sanford's veto is at least a finger in the dike.

DNA is deoxyribonucleic acid, a nucleic acid molecule that contains the genetic instructions used in the development and functioning of all living organisms. It has been likened to a blueprint of your body, and it can be used for many good things -- but it also has potential applications that nudge the ethical envelope.

As we have opined before, a DNA database can be useful. It can help law enforcement solve crimes -- especially the highly emotional kind such as rape and murder -- help the military identify the remains of troops killed in action and help identify abducted children.

But this year's bill would have added to the information creep that many people think is unconstitutional. Last year, the legislature approved a bill that originally related to emergency medical technician requirements but was amended to include DNA testing of people arrested on a felony charge. The state collects DNA samples from convicted felons and stores them into a database that can be used to investigate crimes. The vetoed bill would have expanded the collection of data to anyone arrested and charged with a felony and for eavesdropping, peeping or stalking, according to The Associated Press. While it provided for the destruction of samples if suspects are not convicted, officials would have little incentive to purge the system, and suspects would have little guarantee the information would be eliminated.

Many people are arrested on false charges or bad information, and why should they have to take the extra steps to make sure the information is expunged from their records? Even the most conscientious employees sometimes forget to perform tasks.

While DNA is useful in crime investigations, because it is a blueprint of body and family relationships, it also could be used to determine whether people are likely to be susceptible to certain diseases and thus whether they are an insurance risk.

Most people fear this factor more than the constitutional issue, but DNA is the ultimate in unreasonable searches, and lawmakers should think long and hard before they trample on these grounds. The governor was on sound ground when he vetoed this bill.