DNA bill violates presumption of innocence principle

Two Libertarian candidates with experience in the law and law enforcement believe a bill being considered by the General Assembly to allow police to take a DNA sample from those arrested for certain felonies violates the basic American principle of the presumption of innocence and protections against unconstitutional search and seizure.

“At its most basic level, this bill offends my notions of the presumption of innocence and the right against unconstitutional search and seizure by those merely accused of a crime,” said T.J. Rohr, Libertarian candidate for District Attorney in Burke, Caldwell, and Catawba Counties.

“We have federal and state constitutions that are supposed to guarantee the defendant certain rights,” he said. “Those rights seem to be taken away day by day as Congress and the General Assembly scramble to score easy political points at the cost of what makes the ideals of the American Republic great.”

Barry Coe, Libertarian candidate for N.C. Senate 24, said that the presumption of innocence should override use of new technologies to investigate crime.

“With 20 plus years in law enforcement, I can tell you our so-called justice system is mostly one more means to extract money from people weakened by the illegitimate power of a government, that has become itself a criminal enterprise,” Coe said.

“Many new technologies are now available to help secure the public and investigate criminal acts,” he said. “However, the presumption of innocence should be paramount and no one should be forced to do anything without constitutional due process.”

The original bill championed by Attorney General Roy Cooper would have covered all felonies and some misdemeanors. In its current version the bill only lists certain felonies, including rape, murder and cyberstalking.

The bill was passed by the House judiciary committee and is not being considered by the finance committee.

“Before it adjourns, the legislature should allow law enforcement to collect DNA from arrestees,” the state’s top law enforcement officer said. He told the judiciary committee that the state already has a database of 190,00 DNA samples and this legislation would increase it by 45,000 samples per year.

Rohr said that the cost of processing these additional samples will slow down an already overloaded and underfunded State Bureau of Investigation lab. He said that the lab is already months behind on cases that are actually being prosecuted.

“How many trials are being delayed, how much justice is being denied to both the victims and the accused, and how many dollars are spent on pretrial confinement because DNA has not been processed,” Rohr asked.

“If North Carolina wants to access a database to identify suspects of crime, search the internet for the General Assembly website,” said Coe.

DNA is already taken from anyone convicted of a felony offense or certain assault-related crimes. Under this bill, police would take the DNA sample from those merely arrested, using a cheek swab. Information from the sample would be added to the state’s database. It would only be removed if the person arrested requests it in writing, and then only if they had not been convicted of a crime, including a “lesser included offense,” plead guilty, entered plea bargain, or plead nolo contendere (no contest).

This process also troubles Rohr because “mistakes can happen whereby the sample isn’t destroyed, or the person’s DNA ends up in the system anyway.”

“This is a continuation of a slippery slope,” Rohr said. “First, it was ‘DNA from those convicted of felonies.’ Now with this bill, it may be ‘DNA from those merely accused of felonies.’ Next it will undoubtedly be ‘DNA from those convicted of misdemeanors,’ and then finally ‘DNA from those accused of misdemeanors.’”

While all the bill’s primary sponsors are Republicans, several Democrats are co-sponsors, including Rep. Larry Hall of Durham.