Lawmaker wants tougher DNA testing law

March 23, 2009 5:32:40 PM PDT
There are mixed feelings over a new bill that would help add to the state's DNA database as lawmakers weigh privacy concerns with the ability to track down dangerous criminals. [SIGN UP: Get headlines and breaking news sent to you]

Convicted felons in Texas have to submit their DNA unless they are offered probation or deferred adjudication. But State Senator Dan Patrick of Houston says every convicted felon should be included.

Patrick says all he wants to do is close what he believes is a loophole in the law. Critics argue the bill not only undermines a person's privacy, it could, in the long run, do more harm than good.

Each year, more than 60,000 convicted felons in Texas receive either probation or deferred adjudication, which excludes them from giving authorities a sample of their DNA. Patrick wants to change that.

"We capture that DNA in our databank for future use and secondly, it could be that that DNA might match a crime and it might actually free someone who has been arrested," he said.

The measure is drawing sharp criticism. In addition to concerns about privacy, opponents argue taking DNA without reasonable cause is unconstitutional. What's more, they say, expanding the database could have serious ramifications.

"Considering that the database would be huge, it would hold up the analysis of DNA samples that have to be done immediately, particularly rape kits," said Maida Asofsky with the ACLU.

The fear is a suspect could potentially go on to commit more violent crimes in the meantime. Senator Patrick calls the ACLU's arguments weak. Those backing the measure, like local law enforcement, see this as a 21st century investigative tool to help solve crime.

"Taking someone's DNA with a quick swab or Q-Tip in the mouth is quicker and cleaner than even taking fingerprints," said Houston Police Officers Union President Gary Blankenship. "And we already fingerprint everyone that's arrested."

Senator Patrick estimates this proposal will cost about $1.5 million per year. He says the state would incur most of the cost.

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