September 27, 2011

HARRISBURG- The Pennsylvania Senate Judiciary Committee today passed legislation to drastically expand state law to collect DNA from people charged with but not convicted of crimes. Under current law, the state collects DNA from all persons convicted of a felony, but Senate Bill 775 would expand that collection to all persons charged with a felony and some misdemeanors.

The committee's vote drew criticism from the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania.

"So much for innocent until proven guilty," said Andy Hoover, legislative director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania. "People who are not convicted of crimes are innocent under the law. Without a court order, the government has no right to take their DNA. But this bill bypasses the court altogether.

"This legislature has shown a penchant for passing new big government programs, so this is merely par for the course."

In March, Pennsylvania State Police Commissioner Frank Noonan told a Senate committee that SB 775 would cost PSP $13 million in new spending and increase their caseload by 400 percent. Hoover noted that police were delayed in solving a serial killer case in Philadelphia last year due to current backlogs in DNA testing.

"Police had a DNA sample from the alleged perpetrator, Antonio Rodriguez, in hand after the second victim was killed because Rodriguez had previously been convicted of a felony," Hoover said. "But he allegedly killed a third victim before the DNA was tested. If SB 775 had been in effect at the time, how many more people would have died?"

SB 775 now heads to the Senate floor for consideration.