Cover Story: Collect DNA sample on arrest - | WBTV Charlotte

Cover Story: Collect DNA sample on arrest

By Jeff Atkinson - bio l email

CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - If you are arrested for a felony in any of 23 states across the country, you'll have to surrender a D-N-A sample.

The policy makes it easier to catch repeat offenders, provides more evidence during investigations and presents new leads in cases with not much to go on.

North Carolina is considering becoming the 24th state with that law, and for once this legislative session Democrats and Republicans seem to be on the same page.

How much does it cost?  Less than a million dollars and Governor. Perdue has already added it to her proposed budget.

One of the bill's sponsor told us the social value and the reduced cost to investigate and catch criminals makes it a compelling business case.

Britt McMaster goes about work not dwelling on the past.  It was six years ago when a man came into his business, Atlantic Landscape Supplies on Brookshire Boulevard, and stabbed him and cut his face.

But the experience did leave him street wise to crime in Charlotte.  To him the state's proposal to take DNA from anyone arrested for a felony makes sense.

"We hear the revolving door story," he says.  "Well hopefully this will just help them go back through the door."

DNA samples are already collected from convicted felons, House Bill 1403 would expand that to anyone arrested for a felony.

Since statistics show that those who commit felonies are likely to have committed other crimes supporters say more samples in the database earlier can solve crimes more quickly.

"This law can prevent violent crime from occurring."  At the State House in Raleigh Tuesday, Attorney General Roy Cooper threw his weight behind the bill.

Currently, DNA is collected after the conviction which sometimes takes years leaving a perpetrator time to commit more crimes.

Bill co-sponsor Cornelius Republican Thom Tillis.  He says, "It's really just keeping pace with technology in terms of using it to try and identify offenders at the right time."

There are countless examples of DNA evidence helping solve cases that have gone cold.

Last year, investigators traced a registered sex offender in Virginia to a rape in Salisbury 24 years ago.

Dane Fisher teaches forensics at Pfeiffer University in Stanly county.  He says, "The chance for one person to be similar in the world comparing those chromosomes is 2 to the 23rd power.. lot of zeros."

Twenty-three states and the federal government already can collect samples from those arrested but not yet convicted.

But opponents are concerned about how the DNA collected from people in jail would be used and about the constitutionality of collecting it.

They cite the Fourth Amendment which guards against unreasonable government searches and seizures.

Says Sarah Preston, policy director for North Carolina's ACLU, "It's your entire genetic makeup contained in DNA so there's a lot in there and that's why courts and I think individuals are very protective of that and don't necessarily want it entered into a government data base."

To appease opponents a revised version of the bill introduced Tuesday would require the government destroy DNA samples of people whose charges are dismissed.

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