Tuesday, September 20, 2016 by: Daniel Barker
As America continues its descent into authoritarianism, police are now taking advantage of a lack of legal restrictions so that they can collect DNA Samples from innocent people.
More and more police forces in Florida and other states have initiated a practice nicknamed “stop and swab” or “stop and spit,” which involves using mouth swabs to collect samples to build DNA databases – and they are collecting these samples at random from people who often have committed no crime or who are not even considered suspects in a crime.
What about our constitutional rights?
Many legal experts consider this an invasion of privacy and a violation of constitutional rights, but so far there have been no clear precedents established in the courts determining whether such practices are within the boundaries of the law.
“Over the last decade, collecting DNA from people who are not charged with — or even suspected of — any particular crime has become an increasingly routine practice for police in smaller cities not only in Florida, but in Connecticut, Pennsylvania and North Carolina as well.”
Constitutional rights advocates worry that the practice could lead to many types of abuses of rights and even false convictions.
One of their concerns is the fact that many of the police forces now collecting the DNA samples are using private labs to process and store the data:
“While the largest cities typically operate public labs and feed DNA samples into the FBI’s national database, cities like Melbourne have assembled databases of their own, often in partnership with private labs that offer such fast, cheap testing that police can afford to amass DNA even to investigate minor crimes, from burglary to vandalism.”
One of the problems with using these private labs is that the data may not be accurately processed and stored. An FBI agent told ProPublica that the profiles kept in these private databases “do not meet the strict eligibility, quality, and privacy standards set forth in the federal law.”
DNA evidence is not infallible
Even when DNA evidence is collected, processed and stored according to the strictest standards, such evidence is not as infallible as commonly believed.
For example, many law enforcement agencies and prosecutors are now using what is called “touch DNA” to convict people of crimes. Touch DNA is generated from just a few skin cells found in fingerprints, and is used to create DNA profiles, but as one genetics expert warned, this type of evidence can be highly unreliable.
Cynthia M. Cale, lead forensic DNA analyst III at Strand Diagnostics, wrote in a Nature article: “The term ‘touch DNA’ conveys to a courtroom that biological material found on an object is the result of direct contact.”
In fact, that may not be the case at all. For example, if someone shook your hand and then touched another object, said Cale, enough of your own DNA could be left through secondary, indirect contact that you might be implicated falsely in a crime based on faulty DNA evidence.
It’s easy to imagine a situation in which a jury that has watched too many crime shows and has been led to believe that DNA evidence is infallible, ends up convicting an innocent person of a serious crime such as murder.
Such cases have already occurred – enough, in fact, to lead the Texas Forensic Science Commission to review its own convictions based on DNA evidence for more than the past decade.
And regardless of the possibility of false positives occurring through mishandling or misinterpretation of DNA evidence, should the police be allowed to collect DNA at all without someone’s having committed or even being suspected of a crime?
Anyone with common sense and respect for Fourth Amendment rights regarding reasonable suspicion and the collection of evidence would of course say, “No.”