Senate OKs Bill to Require Pre-Conviction DNA Samples from Suspects

State senators are trying again to widen DNA sampling from suspects accused of certain crimes, passing a bill for the third time in four years Monday to expand the state's existing sampling and storage of DNA.

The Senate approved the bill 33-14 and sent it to the House of Representatives, which has had different ideas on the subject since the Senate first passed a bill to expand the program in 2011. The bill has the support of law enforcement groups, including the Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association, but the American Civil Liberties Union opposes it.

The sponsor, Sen. Dominic Pileggi, R-Delaware, said the bill would help investigators solve and prevent crimes.

"It's much more valuable if the sample is taken post-arrest, pre-conviction, rather than waiting for the time necessary to get through the post-conviction process, and that's been the experience in other states," Pileggi said.

Current state law requires people convicted of serious felonies or certain misdemeanors to submit DNA samples. Under Pileggi's bill, DNA samples would be required after an arrest is made but prior to any conviction. It also would expand the list of offenses for which testing is required, including simple assault and trespassing.

In an April letter of support for the bill, the Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association said a recent University of Virginia study found numerous examples of offenders who went on to commit crime rampages after having been previously arrested for felonies without submitting samples of DNA. Had their DNA been sampled after the first arrest, later crimes could have been prevented, it said.

The association used the case of the Kensington Strangler in Philadelphia as an example in which his later crimes in 2010 could have been prevented by taking post-arrest DNA samples.

In a letter to senators last month, the ACLU said that police can still collect investigatory DNA samples when necessary, based on a search warrant that is supported by probable cause.

But without probable cause, the protection of someone's liberty and privacy should "prevent the state from intrusively collecting and keeping his or her very genetic essence," the ACLU said.

The ACLU cited data from Maryland that it said resulted in 60 convictions from more than 29,300 samples taken in 2009 through 2013.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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