Earlier this year, the U.S. Supreme Court rendered a decision that will have far-reaching effects on law enforcement nationwide at the local, state and federal levels. The ruling in Maryland v. King authorizes government to continue to obtain DNA samples from individuals arrested and charged with serious crimes.
Obviously, this is a terrific tool for law enforcement and a great victory for crime preventative measures, although the majority of civil libertarians don’t like it. They believe it’s a preemptive strike against suspects who have not yet been to court, as well as a violation of the Constitution. The SCOTUS decision was based on the premise that DNA is another method of identifying suspects, like fingerprints and photographs. Expect future pushback from those who oppose using that DNA to connect prisoners to previous crimes.
But a groundbreaking study has convinced me that the use of DNA to connect a criminal to crimes already committed can save lives. The study, completed in Chicago in 2005, showed that 22 murders involving victims aged 24 through 44, and 30 rapes committed against women ages 15 to 65 years old, would never have happened if the DNA of the perpetrators had been subjected to collection, analysis and submission to the national database during previous arrests. And those totals don’t even include lesser offenses, like kidnapping and larcenies.
The DNA database, which includes federal arrestees and those arrested in a growing number of states, allows for inclusion into the system of the prisoner’s DNA. The DNA is then analyzed, stored and compared against DNA on file in various crimes.
For example, John Doe is arrested for breaking and entering and larceny, but before he is allowed bond, his DNA is run through rapid DNA sequencing, then compared against other DNA samples in the system. In Doe’s case, investigators receive a hit against an old homicide involving a rape, and a series of three other rapes. Doe is then charged with the other crimes and refused bail.
Prior to rapid DNA analysis, analyzing DNA took months to complete. Rapid DNA analysis takes less than 90 minutes and developers of the technique hope eventually to shave that time to about an hour. It’s all accomplished on a field unit located in booking areas and operated by the booking officer. Once the DNA is obtained through a cheek swab, it’s compared against other samples from past crimes on file. A hit means that someone who would ordinarily post bond and be allowed back out on the street could be stopped and kept in jail. By continuing to jail the suspect, who knows how many future crimes could be stopped? That’s the premise of the Chicago study and why it’s so important.
Every police officer knows that recidivism is what makes the criminal world go round. Some authorities assert that more than two-thirds of the crimes that are committed on American soil are perpetrated by the same 6 percent of its residents. The faster and more permanently those individuals are withdrawn from circulation, the safer the populace and the more effective police become. But, as I said, the Supreme Court didn’t really say all that with its ruling, so it may all end up back in court at a future date.
In the meantime, all states now require the collection of DNA from convicted felons. Barring future runs at the Supreme Court, we currently have the tools to collect DNA and use it to save lives and prevent rapes and assaults, as well as other crimes. To my way of thinking, this is a great victory for the good guys for a change.