A group of Lower Bucks County Republican lawmakers have unveiled a proposal to significantly expand the collection of DNA samples from individuals arrested in Pennsylvania
In Harrisburg on Wednesday, State Sen. Frank Farry, State Rep. Joe Hogan, and State Rep. KC Tomlinson announced legislation in the state House and Senate that would require post-arrest DNA sample collection for anyone charged with a felony or certain misdemeanors.
Under the current Pennsylvania law, DNA samples are only collected from those convicted of felonies and severe sexual offenses. However, criminal homicides, which are in a distinct legal category and not classified as felonies, have been highlighted by the lawmakers as a “loophole” in the system.
The lawmakers said the DNA samples could help solve other cold case murders and crimes.
“This sample-taking would be no different, practically speaking, than the established process of taking an arrestee’s fingerprints,” a statement from the lawmakers said.
Presently, 19 states collect post-arrest DNA samples.
If a person is found not guilty or they are not charged, their DNA sample could be expunged.
“One of our goals as elected officials is to ensure our communities are safe and Senate Bill 1078 is not only a crucial step in convicting more criminals, it will also stop innocent people from being convicted,” Farry said.
“This legislation will provide a critical tool for our criminal justice system to identify and convict frequent criminal offenders including violent predators,” said Hogan. “We will also be closing the homicide loophole so that more cold cases be solved, and families receive the closure they deserve.”
Tomlinson said the bill would be another tool for law enforcement.
“This bill will stop repeated offenders in their tracks, it will leave no question of someone’s innocence or guilt, and more importantly it gives Police the support they need to put these violent criminals behind bars,” she said.
The proposed legislation has received support from Bucks County Sheriff Fred Harran, a Republican.
Harran, Bensalem Township’s former public safety director, worked to start and grow a multi-agency DNA program that helped solve crimes. He added that several people in Bucks County have been exonerated by DNA, as well.
“We need to take DNA at the time of arrest. Just like a fingerprint,” he said.
The lawmakers were joined by Ashley Spence, the founder of the DNA Justice Project and a rape survivor. Her attacker was arrested years later and convicted through DNA evidence.
Spence shared her harrowing experience and the tale of justice that led to her attacker being put away for more than 100 years.
A 2017 article from news organization Stateline cited critics, such as defense lawyers and civil rights organizations, who have concerns about collection of DNA samples at the time of arrest.
Those opposed argued that collecting DNA samples from individuals at the time of their arrest presumes their involvement in additional, unrelated criminal activities, or may even wrongfully connect them to crimes for which they are not under investigation for.