Bill 1984

I had occasion to meet State Senator Morgan Carroll, who said a few words against the bill that would require DNA samples before conviction, based merely on arrest for a suspected felony.

Officially the bill is known as “Colorado Senate Bill 09-241.” The more appropriate name for it is Bill 1984, in honor of the Orwellian world it would help bring about.

Previously I wrote, “I still need to think more carefully about this issue before reaching a definitive opinion…” I have thought more carefully, and I have reached the definitive opinion that Bill 1984 deserves to go down in defeat, as surely as two plus two equals four.

As one of my friends explained to me, the bill would (among other things) create a perverse incentive for the police to arrest select individuals on some pretext, just to look at their DNA. We could call this “DNA fishing.”

Notably, and frighteningly, Carroll “wound up casting the lone vote against” the measure in Senate Judiciary.

The Denver Post points out (in a typically vacillating editorial):

The results will be kept in a database unless the person is found not guilty, is convicted of a misdemeanor, or charges are dropped.

However, removing the DNA sample from law-enforcement databases is not automatic. … The person whose DNA was taken has to, in some cases, get a notarized letter from the DA saying no felony charge was filed within the statute of limitations — which could go on for years. Or that person must get a certified copy of a court order saying the charge was dismissed.

In other words, the burden is on the accused, and it’s significant.

Of course, by then the police have already run all the DNA checks they intended. Moreover, it is only a matter of time before some other legislator figures that allowing the innocent to remove their DNA information from the database is an undue burden on law enforcement.

The foundation of a just legal system is the presumption of innocence until guilt is proved. Yes, upon probable cause people may be arrested, held, and tried prior to a jury’s finding of guilty or not guilty. But such restraints are justified only insofar as they are necessary for the resolution of the case. Violations of liberty beyond that are unjust.

Not everything goes in empowering law enforcement to solve crimes. No doubt the police could solve more cases if they were able to arrest people without cause, forcibly collect DNA samples of every newborn, implant everyone with computer chips, use torture, imprison people at will for any length of time, etc. But we don’t allow those things, because they would corrode the very system of liberty and justice that we are trying to protect. For similar reasons, we should not allow DNA sampling prior to conviction.

“He gazed up at the enormous face. Forty years it had taken him to learn what kind of smile was hidden beneath the dark moustache. O cruel, needless misunderstanding! O stubborn, self-willed exile from the loving breast! Two gin-scented tears trickled down the sides of his nose. But it was all right, everything was all right, the struggle was finished. He had won the victory over himself. He loved Big Brother.”