Under Current Law, DNA Samples Can Be Taken Only After A Conviction

HARRISBURG - In passing legislation to collect DNA from Pennsylvanians not convicted of a crime, the state Senate today ignored protections inherent in the commonwealth's constitution, the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania said in a statement after the bill's passage.

Senate Bill 150 requires law enforcement authorities to collect DNA from a person arrested for a felony or one of several listed misdemeanors. Under current law, a DNA sample is collected only after a person is convicted of one of those crimes.

"It's Constitutional Law 101," said Reggie Shuford, executive director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania. "The state constitution can protect individual rights at a higher level than the federal Constitution, and the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has consistently ruled in favor of the people in stopping warrantless searches, like the DNA sampling in this bill."

Earlier this month, the United States Supreme Court ruled that a similar Maryland law is constitutional under the Fourth Amendment of the federal Constitution. The ruling has spurred on supporters of the Senate bill, but the legislation still faces multiple hurdles before it becomes law.

Since 1991, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has ruled at least four times that the state constitution's provision on searches-and-seizures provides a high level of protection. In addition, at the Pennsylvania State Police budget hearing before the Senate Appropriations Committee earlier this year, Commissioner Frank Noonan told the committee that the preconviction DNA proposal would require PSP to hire 30 new DNA examiners. However, the Senate's fiscal note anticipates that the state police would hire just six new examiners.

Finally, a similar Senate bill was rejected by the state House less than a year ago, when it overwhelmingly passed an amendment by Representative Brandon Neuman that gutted the DNA collection provision in October.

"The state constitutional case law and the practical and political problems with this bill did not simply disappear after the Supreme Court's ruling," said Andy Hoover, legislative director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania. "Fortunately for Pennsylvanians, the supporters of this bill have a long way to go before the government starts collecting DNA from people not convicted of a crime."