To help assuage these fears, states not only must put safeguards in place limiting the use of DNA samples, but also need to publicly demonstrate they are in compliance, according to the issue brief, "Improving Public Safety by Expanding the Use of Forensic DNA," put out by the NGA Center for Best Practices in 2007. The document reports states may need to employ an oversight body or mandate audit trails tracking DNA use. The good news is that many states have already done this. For example, New York, Texas and Virginia established commissions responsible for monitoring DNA evidence handling.
While protecting individual privacy is an issue, Jayann maintains she, and many other law-abiding citizens, would not have a problem with their DNA being collected and put in a database for law enforcement use, stressing that the only time it becomes an issue is if a DNA profile matches DNA at a crime scene. "If you don't commit a crime, there's nothing to fear," she says.
When DNA evidence from a crime scene does match a profile in the database, it may be explained away in that the individual visited the home or site frequently. But if the profile came from under a victim's fingernails, for instance, that's harder to explain. But even if a sample matches a suspect, officials run another DNA test to ensure the individual's DNA matches the database profile a second time.No price tag for safety
Supporters maintain arrestee DNA collection makes the criminal justice system more efficient and effective, while naysayers say collecting DNA for every arrest costs more. But for victims like Neuman, or affected family members such as Jayann, you cannot put a cost on these measures. "If you have the possibility of keeping a serial rapist or murderer off the streets, what kind of price tag would you put on that?" Neuman asks.
Furthermore, the cost is not as high as one might think, especially when compared to the expenses incurred in unnecessary investigations and prosecutions. It costs the state of New Mexico $80 to collect, process, analyze and upload a sample. In comparison, Jayann says authorities spent more than $200,000 investigating her daughter's case before capturing her killer. Even the expense of keeping an offender incarcerated appears cheaper than leaving a violent felon on the streets. In fact in 2000, economist Philip Romero estimated incarcerating an offender can save up to $200,000 annually in victim and social costs.
According to Burke, collecting arrestee DNA is cost-effective over the long term. "What is the cost of a homicide? If you catch the person, you stop them from committing crimes and provide a victim's family some relief. How can you put a price on that?" asks the former Maryland police officer. "The question isn't can we afford to do this, the question is can we afford not to?"
DNA databases are only as useful as the amount and quality of information they contain. The idea of collecting more profiles seems like a good one, but some people question how this will impact the current DNA backlog. The National Institute of Justice (NIJ) estimates the backlog of rape and homicide cases at approximately 350,000 nationwide. The NIJ also estimates there are 300,000 backlogged offender samples and more than 500,000 samples yet to be taken from offenders.
However, supporters say collecting DNA from arrestees can actually reduce DNA backlogs. In fact, Jayann reports New Mexico no longer has a DNA backlog since it began arrestee DNA collection. The state sends arrestee samples to a private lab, where they are processed when the lab has approximately 80 samples. And while there is a slight delay, Jayann says it is nothing compared to the delay she experienced with her daughter's case.
New Mexico's success can be duplicated, Jayann adds, by adequately funding the DNA arrestee program. The state of New Mexico put funds in the budget at the program's onset, and hired forensic technicians to expedite DNA collection and processing.
Putting arrestee DNA into the system may help solve cold cases and prevent future ones, thus saving states enough money to invest in the people and technology needed for additional DNA processing, Burke adds. Let's say a rape today costs more than $100,000 to society (a reasonable number given that a rape was estimated to cost about $87,000 in 2000). If an offender commits eight rapes and a DNA database catches the offender after rape four, the database match will have prevented four rapes, and saved society approximately $400,000.