DNA Databases: Pioneering Or Profiling?-The Orlando Times
BY DEVIN HEFLIN, TIMES STAFF WRITER
CENTRAL FLORIDA - In the model of most law enforcement agencies across the nation, prescreened DNA to link evidence in crimes is a priority in solving once cold cases or apprehending loose offenders, but community groups are protesting that this practice condones profiling and criminalizes even non-violent offenders.
Scores of states have also expanded their DNA testing and storage programs.
Prior to April 2009, it was reported the federal government genetically tracked only convicts. But, the FBI joined 15 states that year in collecting DNA samples from those awaiting trial and collected DNA from detained immigrants — the vanguard of a growing class of genetic registrants.
Recall, Florida made state number sixteen in the retention of DNA profiles, as was covered in the late June 2009 edition of The Orlando Times that year.
The F.B.I., with a DNA database of 6.7 million profiles, expects to accelerate its growth rate from 80,000 new entries a year to 1.2 million by 2018 — a 15-fold increase. F.B.I. officials say they expect DNA processing backlogs — which now stand at more than 500,000 cases — to increase.
Law enforcement officials say that expanding the DNA databanks to include legally innocent people will help solve more violent crimes. They point out that DNA has helped convict thousands of criminals and has exonerated more than 200 wrongfully convicted people.
The Innocence Project is an organization which has frontline combatted this issue.
"We don't approve of arrestee databases. Virginia, for instance... passed a statute permitting the DNA sampling of anyone who is arrested... We oppose this because it invites police to engage in pretext arrests: arresting somebody without probable cause, just to get a biological specimen…” said Peter Neufeld, co-director and co-founder of the Innocence Project.
In Florida, innocent men have been exonerated of offenses on the effort of the Innocence Project.
In 2015, the Orange County Sheriff’s office opened its new DNA testing lab, which permits for pre-screened results and faster methods of crime solving.
“This doesn’t target non-violent offenders. This method is to bring closure to victims and to solve victim prone crimes.” Said Sheriff Jerry Demings.
With this method, Orange County Sheriff’s office has worked in collusion with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, which has had the practice since state adoption in 2009.
California collects bio-samples from every child born in the state. The material is then stored indefinitely in a state-run biobank, where it may be purchased for outside research.
Their state law requires that parents are informed of their right to request the child's sample be destroyed, but the state does not confirm parents actually get that information before storing or selling their child's DNA.
In light of the Cambridge Analytica-Facebook scandal and the use of unidentified DNA to catch the Golden State Killer suspect, there are new concerns about law enforcement access, and what private researchers could do with access to the DNA from every child born in the state.
It all begins with a crucial and potentially lifesaving blood test.
The Newborn Genetic Screening test is required in all 50 states, and is widely believed to be a miracle of modern medicine.
Nearly every baby born in the United States gets a heel prick shortly after birth. Their newborn blood fills six spots on a special filter paper card. It is used to test baby for dozens of congenital disorders that, if treated early enough, could prevent severe disabilities and even death.
It's estimated that newborn screening leads to a potentially life-saving early diagnosis each year for 5,000 to 6,000 children nationwide.
Exonerations using DNA-Cases
-David Keaton Florida Conviction: 1971, Charges Dismissed: 1973
On the basis of mistaken identification and coerced confessions, Keaton was sentenced to death for murdering an off duty deputy sheriff during a robbery. The State Supreme Court reversed the conviction and granted Keaton a new trial because of newly discovered evidence. Charges were dropped and he was released after the actual killer was identified and convicted.
-Samuel A. Poole North Carolina Conviction: 1973, Charges Dismissed: 1974
After being convicted of first degree burglary and given a mandatory death sentence, Poole had his conviction overturned by the N.C. Supreme Court because the case lacked substantial evidence that Poole was the person who broke into the home.
-Freddie Pitts Florida Conviction: 1963, Pardoned: 1975 (right)
Although no physical evidence linked them to the deaths of two white men, Lee and Pitts' guilty pleas, the testimony of an alleged eyewitness, and incompetent defense counsel led to their convictions. The men were sentenced to death but maintained their innocence. After their convictions, another man confessed to the crime, the eyewitness recanted her accusations, and the state Attorney General admitted that the state had unlawfully suppressed evidence. The men were granted a new trial (Pitts v. State 247 So.2d 53 (Fla. 1971)) but were again convicted and sentenced to death. They were released in 1975 when they received a full pardon from Governor Askew, who stated he was "sufficiently convinced that they were innocent."
“This sets a precedent that anyone at any time can be criminalized, and considering the history of this country, that’s been the case.” Said Beverly Neal, President of the Orange County Branch NAACP.
The local branch, which focuses on prison and criminal justice reform at many local facilities, has passed six resolutions since 2011 on this matter, in addition to poor living conditions in prisons, which attributed to other forms of diseases in various inmate populations.
“This country will become a genetic surveillance society.” Said Neal, citing the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution.