Wisconsin is set to join a growing number of states where mandatory collection of DNA from suspects is enforced, even before a trial takes place.
Law enforcement agencies there hope to identify the perpetrators from previously unsolved cases, where DNA was collected but not used in a conviction. The Madison State Crime Lab received enough DNA for over 10,000 profiles in the last year, but expects to receive up to 60,000 known DNA samples per year, after April 1st when the law takes effect. The bill was signed into law in 2013 by Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker. Governor Walker, likely a 2016 presidential hopeful, had first introduced a much more aggressive and expansive DNA collection bill, before compromising with state Republicans.
“People who don’t commit crimes are not going to have anything in our database. That’s just the way it is,” Wisconsin Department of Justice official Brian O’Keefe said.
But that’s not entirely true, as State Rep. David Craig (R-Big Bend) points out: the law is written so that DNA collection is enforced from all suspects, not just convicted criminals.
Wisconsin law enforcement officers hope that an increase in DNA sample collection will better enable them to protect citizens, regardless of the impact to civil liberties. A 2010 RAND Corporation study (PDF DOWNLOAD) “found that database matches are more strongly related to the number of crime-scene samples than to the number of offender profiles in the database.” That’s explained because of repeat offenses and convictions, where DNA is collected and matched against DNA profiles from previous crimes.
Although the law isn’t likely to be overturned, many state Republicans are still riled up over the law. “I think there is a strong contingent of us that say before [suspects] have their due process exhausted in the court system, they should maintain something as personal as DNA. We have a job to balance security, and safety versus individual liberty for those who have not had their day in court,” Rep. Craig said.
In 2013, the Supreme Court upheld a ruling on the constitutionality of mandatory DNA collection from those accused of crimes, but not convicted. The state’s argument is that DNA is the same as fingerprints, which are taken from all suspects. The Supreme Court decision lent support to that argument.
In that case, Maryland v. King, the state’s deputy attorney general alluded to forensics teams being able to analyze and match DNA in 90 minutes. “This is not science fiction,” she said. “We are very, very close to that.”
And we get that much closer to further violations of the Fourth Amendment, while giving up our Liberties for the sake of so-called security.