DNA Testing Of All Suspects Would Improve Justice System
5 March 1999 By Stentor Danielson
Recently, the fine state of Louisiana adopted a law that would allow police to take a DNA sample from anyone they arrest. Because of the controversy this policy raised, the Justice Department organized a National Commission on the Future of DNA Evidence to investigate the issue and make a recommendation to the Attorney General by August as to what action or position, if any, the federal government should take. But I, for one, don't need to wait until August to decide that I am wholeheartedly in favor of DNA testing of suspects in cases where DNA evidence would be relevant.
In fact, I wouldn't have even thought this issue worthy of a commentary, except that there is organized resistance to the institution of this practice. Most prominently, this resistance comes from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). This organization is planning to take action against the implementation of DNA testing and was called to testify at the Justice Department commission's recent hearings. The ACLU's position is that DNA testing would give the government, and potentially others, access to "the most intimate secrets of our lives."
In light of this statement, I must ask where the ACLU was during biology class. DNA is the code for our physiological makeup. Though it is unique to each individual, DNA only records things like gender, height and eye color. Maybe the ACLU is very sensitive about these issues, but I don't care if the government knows this kind of stuff about me. In fact, the government already uses physiological makeup to identify people, though in a somewhat cruder fashion. Just get out your driver's license and take a look. Mine says "Sex: M, Height: 6'2", Eyes: BLU." And right next to that is a picture that records various fine details of my face.
These aren't intimate secrets. Intimate secrets derive from events and choices that are recorded in your memory, not your DNA. If the government wanted to read my mind and identify me by my political philosophy (which I'm not even quite sure how to describe myself), my love life (if you can call it that) and my childhood bedwetting problems, then I might be worried. But DNA is just a tag. It's the barcode that tells you it's a Granny Smith apple, but doesn't say whether it got bruised in shipping. Hopefully, someone will explain this to the ACLU.
Furthermore, the ACLU fears that these "intimate secrets" will be shared. This would ordinarily seem like a reasonable fear. If you've read my past commentaries, you know that I have little faith in the government's ability to stay above corruption. The problem here, though, is that there is no reason for the government to share DNA records with anybody. Who would want them, and what would they do with them? As I said earlier, DNA is just an identification tag, like a social security number. The kind of things that corporations and political factions would like to find out about you - whether you might be pressured into buying a subscription to Field and Stream, whether you might donate money to fight for affirmative action, and so on - are independent of your DNA. Personally, I don't care if the whole world knows my blood type and my shoe size, or anything else my DNA says.
Now that I've sufficiently bashed the ACLU's criticisms, I can give some indication of why the testing would be worth the expense and hassle of fighting such organizations. Basically, it comes down to an issue of protecting myself. If I were arrested for some crime in which there was DNA evidence - a rape, for example - I would jump at the chance to have my DNA compared to the rapist's, in order to prove my innocence. And, as an added bonus, once my DNA was on file, it could be quickly compared to the DNA recovered from future crimes, so that the police could save both of us the time and expense of arresting me again.
Furthermore, the file would make people think twice about committing a crime that might leave DNA traces. DNA evidence is hard to argue against, and you don't have the luxury of hoping they won't suspect you when they've got a sample to compare to the database. This amounts to safer conditions for all innocent folks.
I think I can safely offer my voice in support of wider adoption of Louisiana's new DNA testing policy. In fact, I look forward to the day when quick DNA tests will replace driver's licenses and Colgate ID cards as forms of foolproof identification. This would put the makers of fake IDs out of business, but I think our economy will be able to handle that shock by the time the appropriate technology is developed. In the meantime, testing arrestees can only help our impetus to improve, and our acceptance of, DNA identification.
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