Supreme Court DNA ruling hasn't made changes locally

Supreme Court DNA ruling hasn't made changes locally

While the U.S. Supreme Court earlier this month upheld the police practice of taking DNA samples from persons who have been arrested but not convicted of a crime, it hasn't yet translated into additional swabbing for DNA by area law enforcement.

But some area sheriff's offices are looking at setting up DNA-testing policies in light of the court's decision.

The court ruled 5-4 that DNA sampling — after an arrest "for a serious offense" and when officers "bring the suspect to the station to be detained in custody" — does not violate the Fourth Amendment, which prohibits unreasonable searches.

Under those specifications, the court said in the decision, "taking and analyzing a cheek swab of the arrestee's DNA is, like fingerprinting and photographing, a legitimate police booking procedure that is reasonable under the Fourth Amendment."

Douglas County Chief Deputy Peter Buckley said there has been no increase in DNA swabbing there so far.

"We have been doing swabbing on an occasional basis," Buckley said. "Right now, if we believe a suspect's DNA is at the crime scene, we will ask to do swabbing. Especially in sexual assault cases, there can be DNA left at the scene that can provide evidence.

"Then we will take DNA from inside a person's cheek and see if it matches the DNA that was left from the sexual assault."

Buckley said his county is waiting for a recommendation from the state police before the sheriff's office implements a policy on the use of DNA swabbing.

Ford County has not started swabbing more, according to Sheriff Mark Doran.

"In my experience, DNA does provide additional evidence in identifying people who commit crimes," Doran said. "However, as with anything else, there are limitations. It is like fingerprints. Before you can identify fingerprints, you must have fingerprints of offenders to compare them to."

Piatt County Sheriff David Hunt reports no increase in DNA swabbing in his county to this point.

"We haven't been doing swabbing for each person," Hunt said. "We typically do swabbing for sexual assault cases."

Hunt said he would like to meet with other sheriffs in central Illinois before making any changes in Piatt County.

"We will discuss the issue with the other sheriffs to find out what is being done in other areas," he said.

Hunt said that DNA sampling, like fingerprinting, is a way to help identify criminals.

"Obviously taking as much information as possible helps to solve crimes down the road," Hunt said.

Champaign County Sheriff Dan Walsh said there hasn't been an increase in swabbing for DNA so far in his county.

"I have been talking with State's Attorney Julia Reitz about it, and we plan to talk to the presiding judge, Tom Difanis, about the Supreme Court decision," Walsh said.

Walsh added that Judge Richard Klaus is also contributing to developing a policy.

"In the past, the court would order DNA testing after a conviction, and the probation office or the Department of Corrections would do the testing. The new thing will be testing for DNA before a conviction."

While law enforcement officials previously needed a warrant to do DNA testing on an unconvicted person, Walsh said, the Supreme Court says the testing may now be done, under certain conditions, without a warrant.

Walsh said testing for an arrestee's DNA would only happen following five categories of crimes: first-degree murder, home invasion, predatory criminal sexual assault of a child, aggravated criminal sexual assault and criminal sexual assault.

He said the DNA testing could take place if a judge found probable cause or an arrestee has waived his or her right to a preliminary hearing.

Doran said Ford County takes DNA swabs following court orders or search warrants.

"When it comes to major sex crimes and forcible felonies, law enforcement is always advised to seek an order from the court to collect evidence, especially when you know a case is going to be well-scrutinized by attorneys, experts, and judges."

Hunt said police in Piatt County typically ask a judge for a warrant to test someone's DNA if it is needed.

"If we have a crime where there is DNA present, like a homicide or a burglary in which there is blood present, we can have probable cause to get a warrant," he said.

"A person can also voluntarily agree to DNA testing," Walsh said. "When we had a homicide at Candlewood Estates in Mahomet in 2009, we did close to 200 DNA tests, and virtually all of them were voluntary."

Once the DNA has been collected from a subject, Douglas County's Buckley said, a deputy takes it to the Illinois State Police Crime Lab in Springfield, where it is analyzed and catalogued in the state's DNA database.

The FBI, in turn, operates a national database of DNA information called the Combined DNA Index System — often known by its acronym CODIS — that includes DNA profiles from federal, state and local forensic laboratories.

Buckley said he believes DNA evidence is an important tool in solving crimes.

"It can point us in the right direction," Buckley said. "If we find a dead body and don't have a suspect, we can take DNA left at the scene, put it in the CODIS system and find a match in the system."

Since a greater number of people will be in the CODIS system as a result of the Supreme Court ruling, Buckley said it can increase the odds of finding a match.

"The more people in CODIS, the better it is for solving crimes," Buckley said.

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