Prosecutors fight for DNA sampling to solve crimes
Moses Kelly pleaded guilty to raping a disabled woman in Bellingham and an 80-year-old woman in Kirkland. Detectives didn’t know who attacked the two women, and didn’t realize it was the same rapist until DNA connected the cases to Kelley.
Under California law, Kelley had to give a DNA sample when he was arrested years ago — even though he was never convicted of a crime. The law differs from that In Washington state, where suspects have the right to withhold their DNA unless they are convicted.
Prosecutors like Dan Satterberg in King County and Mark Lindquist in Pierce County have voiced concern about Washington’s current law and have supported legislation in recent years to change it. Members of the ACLU and criminal defense lawyers have fought to block those bills, arguing they violate a person’s privacy, specifically citing the DNA sampling as a violation of the 4th Amendment’s unlawful search and seizure clause.
Prosecutors plan to bring the Kelly case to state lawmakers when they convene next year in the hope of persuading them to allow DNA to be collected at the time of arrest.
In June, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled criminal suspects can be subjected to a police DNA test after arrest and before trial and conviction. A 5-4 majority of the court concluded it is legitimate, and upheld a Maryland state law.
Law enforcement lauds genetic testing’s potential as the “gold standard” of reliable evidence gathering, especially to solve cold cases involving violent offenders.
But privacy rights groups counter the state’s “trust us” promise not to abuse the technology does not ease their concerns that someone’s biological makeup could soon be applied for a variety of non-criminal purposes.
Currently, 26 states and the federal government allow genetic swabs to be taken after a felony arrest and without a warrant. Each state has different procedures, but in all cases, only a profile is created. About 13 individual markers out of some 3 billion are isolated from a suspect’s DNA. That selective information does not reveal the full genetic makeup of a person and, officials stress, nothing is shared with any other public or private party, including any medical diagnostics.