Friday, March 20, 2009

Delay could be chance to improve DNA database bill

While the Texas Senate Criminal Justice Committee voted several bills out of committee this week - including Sen. Juan Hinojosa's legislation eliminating life without parole sentences for juveniles, substituting a flat 40 year minimum - I was somewhat surprised to see Sen. Dan Patrick's SB 727 expanding Texas' DNA database wasn't among them.

Sen. Patrick's bill would dramatically expand Texas' DNA database to include all adults on probation, all youth sent to TYC, and every juvenile convicted of a felony, massively expanding the size of the state's DNA collection. (Presently about 155,000 people are locked up in Texas prisons, while perhaps triple that number are on probation.)

Among juveniles, too, Patrick has suggested a breathtaking expansion by including not just youth in TYC but all juvenile felons. Only a fraction of youth adjudicated for felonies are sent to TYC, but many times that number are put on probation. The inclusion of these youth bothers me because there's no provision in the bill for how juveniles (or anyone else) can petition in the future for their DNA to be removed. How long should a felony graffiti rap when you're 15 keep you in the CODIS database?

Over time, we're talking about accumulating DNA data on a large proportion of Texans. When you consider that one in 22 adult Texans at any one time is under control of the criminal justice system (about one in 11 adult Texans have a felony record), we could easily see Texas go from the 400,000 or so currently in the CODIS database to millions in just a few years.

While the Senate committee takes extra time to consider Patrick's bill, I'd strongly suggest everyone involved with that decision - both committee members and staff - read Jeffrey Rosen's article this week at Slate ("Genetic surveillance for all," March 17) articulating potential downsides to creating such an uber-database - particularly the risks to personal privacy of family members who committed no crime - as thoughtfully as anyone I've seen.

Rosen foresees a terrible, slippery slope for the DNA database from the use of familial DNA searches, which he says amount to a "DNA dragnet," especially among African-American communities.

At a minimum, I'd have to agree that "the decision to record the probabilities of each match in racial terms gives a creepy whiff of eugenics to the CODIS database." I have no idea why scientists would choose to subcategorize probability rates by cultural distinctions like race - why would that method of parsing the data be any more probative than just using the same baseline for everybody?

One reason to focus on race may be that CODIS disproportionately includes African Americans, Rosen argues, thanks to crime patterns over the period DNA has been collected:
African-Americans, by several estimates, represent about 13 percent of the U.S. population but 40 percent of the people convicted of felonies every year. The CODIS database of 6.6 million now includes samples from convicted offenders. As arrestees are added to this mix, CODIS may soon grow to 50 million samples, which might be even more disproportionately African-American. Hank Greely of Stanford Law School has estimated that 17 percent of African-American citizens could be identified through familial searches, as opposed to only 4 percent of the Caucasian population. Once the implications of the racial disparity become clear, there may be a reaction against ever-more-expansive forms of DNA collection that makes the debate about racial profiling look tame.
Given that Texas' own debates about racial profiling have been neither pleasant nor tame, from my perspective it would be better to have such discussions before the state massively expands its DNA database, not after.

Of course, privacy risks and racial profiling concerns must be weighed against the law enforcement benefits. In the scheme of things, though, the DNA database doesn't solve very many cases; Texas solved its 1,000th case last year through the DNA database after 12 years of using it, but this is a state with around 850,000 felony adjudications annually, so that's not very many. As Mark Bennett points out, "Most cases don’t involve DNA. Most rape cases don’t involve DNA. Most child rape cases don’t involve DNA."

Far and away, most crimes are solved by routine investigation. Most cases solved using DNA match biological evidence with a particular suspect, or in the case of exonerations, innocence is established by the failure to match crime scene DNA (usually a rape kit) to the person convicted of the offense. Relatively few crimes are solved through a lucky hit on the database. Even when DNA exists, Texas crime labs lack sufficient capacity. All of them are backed up with months-long waits for analyses. This bill would add to crime labs' workload when they're barely able to handle the DNA caseload they've got.

So while it's true that DNA evidence is a useful new forensic tool, the database itself is not some crimefighting panacea. It's most often useful in serious, violent offenses, but Sen. Patrick's bill extends its tentacles more broadly to every type of offense.

The only government I know of that gathers DNA on as many of its citizens as Sen. Patrick is proposing would be Great Britain, where the Labour Party under Tony Blair built a database with 7.39% of the population in it, compared to about 0.5% in the United States. How has it worked out there? Last month, the House of Lords issued a report criticizing the growth of "surveillance society" tactics in the UK, fearing openly that widespread DNA collection could be misused for "malign purposes."

The House of Lords' report highlighted possible safeguards that might reasonably be included in Texas' bill, e.g,: "GeneWatch UK called for the reintroduction of 'a system of time limits on how long people are kept on the Database—so that only DNA profiles from people convicted of serious violent or sexual offences are kept permanently.'” That seems like a sensible approach to me, particularly in light of Sen. Patrick's proposed expansion to juveniles and probationers.

I don't know why SB 727 has been delayed when other bills heard at the same time are moving on through the system, but hopefully it's to scale back the legislation's sweeping scope, particularly among juveniles, and to create protocols and mechanisms for removing DNA samples from the database.

27 comments:

TxBluesMan said...

I think it is a great time to improve the bill...

Just change where it reads "felony" to "any offense" and it'll be perfect...

Tracy said...

I'm unclear how CODIS is supposed to work in theory. If police have a DNA sample, but no idea whose DNA it is, can CODIS look for a match in its already-ID'd database? That's the way the fingerprint database AFIS works.

TxBluesMan said...

Same principle, if their is no DNA on file (or no fingerprint), it will come back empty.

Anonymous said...

S.B. 727: Ignorance, racism, or an overly enthusiatic response to the entreaties of police state advocates. Or all three.

Anonymous said...

If anyone's DNA is put in the data base then put everyone's DNA in the data base. Don't worry if DNA will be used for future eugenics projects, our government or mega-corporations would never do anything unethical. The government or corporate America would never use DNA data bases to engineer target specific bio-weapons or try to profit from our DNA records.

There is a major difference between finger print data bases and DNA data bases. DNA data bases have extreme possibilities most people with no science background can't even imagine. First we take criminal DNA then we add other groups until the entire population is in the DNA data base. First we take the guns away from criminals and now there are open moves to take guns away from everyone. When the rights of an outcast part of the general population are suppressed it is only a short time until the entire population is at risk in the same manner.

We are from the government and we are here to help you!

Rage Judicata said...

I have never in my life wanted anyone to be wrongly accused and convicted as much as I do TxBluesMan.
I cannot believe the level of dumb it takes to think that everyone who commits even a traffic offense should be categorized.

He would have loved the USSR. China and North Korea are still around, maybe he can go there.

Anonymous said...

Hey Rage, great post! I love your sassy insults... and that homoerotic boy-toy you have on your blog, he's so cute. Can I be your fag hag?

Jessica

Anonymous said...

Ahhh... if only the legislature was so enlightened.... The delay on Patrick's bill has nothing to do with policy and everything to do with the fiscal note.

Maybe there's an upside to this recession after all?

Anonymous said...

A massive expansion of the DNA database will make it so much easier for the criminal to plant someone else's DNA to cover thier crime. DNA is not the silver bullet to solving crime and such an expansion and the probability of planted evidence will render the tool near useless.

Anonymous said...

El Moldo says: The misuse of DNA in a database is clearly an example of the manipulation risks with DNA.. Not to mention your loss of constitutional rights to privacy. And who says we won't have a state and national "required" ID on you.....your DNA. The fuzz will one day be able to swipe anyone at a crime scene or investigation and Voila the crime is attached to anyone they choose. Truly Orwellian. Even the Russians have more sense than these yahoos that go to state and federal congress' and decide what they personally want is paramount....not the electorates.Truly Orwellian.

Anonymous said...

NEXT STEP - chip implantation.

Certainly it would reduce violations of State Penal Laws.
But do we want it?

WHAT happens when, in the future, State Penal Laws become intollerably broad? Is there any concern for whe the day comes when all but those who are members of the party have a chip implant to track their every movement and record their ever word?

Anonymous said...

El Moldo says: Believe it or ot chip implantation is a reality already. In Mexico personnel working in the equivalent to their Attorney Generals office have chips implanted in their shoulders...they are RFID chips (Radio Frequency Identification). They pass through a scanner and they are identified. Now add Iris ID along with chips and fingerprints.....folks we are screwed! But then remember..."Felons have no rights" so stick it to them and as we convert everyone to a felon...especially in Texas we got'em where we want them"

Anonymous said...

Charles Kiker here:

I think surely TxBluesMan is just kidding about wanting any offense to be catalogued. Just trying to get a rise out of some of us liberal do-gooders. I'm not gonna take the bait.

Anonymous said...

El Moldo says: I think that changes to a bill are meaningless. In Harris County, today, all felony perpetrators whether convicted or not are required to submit to a DNA donation for the purposes of building CODIS as directed by our new DA Lykos. The judges further have at their discretion the right to force any other misdemeanor perpetrator to submit to DNA profiling. And this from the most scandalous DNA facility in the country. Folks we now live in a police state!

Anonymous said...

Pretty soon you won't be able to buy a gun or ammo, any kind. Obama boys will take them away and price them out of existence. BUT YOU voted the jerk in for change!

Anonymous said...

A nice big DNA data base will be good for the insurance companies. Also if any of the ultra rich need a transplant it would be handy for them to know who to abduct for the spare parts that would be a good match. DNA has many more possibilities than for ID of a person. DNA coupled to medical records could allow insurance companies to decide who to reject. I think the first people entered into the DNA data base should be politicians since a high percentage of them tend to be less than totally honest.

bulletsamach said...

On Christmas eve, 1999, my daughter was carjacked, kidnapped and sexually assaulted REPEATEDLY by a scumbag in Houston, TX The detectives on the case could not make a tight case until 2008 when Mr. Wonderful was checking out of TDCJ after serving time for something else and they nailed him on a hit from the DNA database. Without it, Mr. W would have slipped into the night to hurt and destroy again. I say let's do what is necessary to make it a tool that law enforcement and prosecutors alike can use to protect and serve. Can't wrap your tiny brain around that? Think about what Christmas means to my daughter, her children, my family...can't undo the wrong but justice can now be served, thanks to DNA. I'm a fan.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

bulletsamach, your daughter's rapist was caught with DNA collection at current levels. Your experience does not in the least argue for expanding the database to all probationers, juvies, nonviolent offenders, etc..

bulletsamach said...

mea culpa, I posted out of passion, not reason, having not read what I was responding to with thoroughness....in that vein, I say no, don't expand it to all offenders....but how do you determine who should be tested? There are serious offenses committed by probationers all the time. Sometimes it's a natural progression by individuals with a criminal mentality, and don't say it doesn't happen because it does. Then what? I've seen juvvies with records as long as your arm, all misdemeanors, just flying under the radar, waiting for the opportunity to escalate activity to the next level. Sound omminus? you bet, and its real. I'm a child of the 60's when the government was the enemy and everything was a conspiracy...(I can give you an impromtu hour on the Kennedy assasination) but what meant in my uninformed but impassioned diatribe was let's make the law something that would be a workable, viable tool for the safety of the citizens...what that would entail, I can't really say. But I do know this...there are alot of bad sob's out there that are slipping through the noose and alot of innocent people sitting in the hoosegow now, convicted of crimes they didn't commit. There has to be a solution given the technology that is available to us now.

editor said...

What about DNA from patients at a state hospital not even convicted yet as proposed in SB 1627 ?

stircrazyintexas.blogspot.com

Anonymous said...

Bulletsamach:

I don’t think you know what “flying under the radar means”. If these fictional juvenile(s) in your post have records “as long as your arm”, how is that engaging in activity without detection?

Anonymous said...

Oops! I meant for the quotation mark to be placed after the word radar, not means.

Please excuse the typo.

Anonymous said...

Rage, you look like an idiot.

now,
I don't think the database should be expanded to include all juvenile felons. not appropriate.

TxBluesMan said...

Rage,

ROTFLMAO.

That's a typical lib response to someone that doesn't agree with them, since they are so 'enlightened.'


Charles,

Good for you... though it does put a kink in my fun. Oh well, I can still watch Rage foam at the mouth...

I've got a compromise on the bill idea... we won't get DNA on non-violent misdemeanors if we can gather DNA on those voting in the Democratic primaries...


Anon 8:48 said:
Rage, you look like an idiot

Wow!

I can't think of anything to add to that...

Anonymous said...

Blues:

Tell me what you think a liberal is. Because I'm pretty sure I'm a conservative civil libertarian and the one who wants to catalog everyone's DNA is the liberal.

Rage

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