The Senate Law & Justice Committee today heard a bill that would require DNA samples to be collected from all adult ranked felony arrestees in the State of Washington. (Senate Bill 6314).

“This bill is about justice and ensuring that victims of violence, women, children and the vulnerable are protected,” said Sen. Jeannie Darneille, D-Tacoma, the bill’s sponsor. “We can’t stop all the unthinkable things that happen, however, this bill would be a critical step in solving crimes and helping prevent others from being victimized.”

Under the bill, DNA samples would be collected at the time of booking from any adults arrested for a ranked felony offense or selected gross misdemeanor offenses. (Examples include violation of protection orders related to domestic violence, sexual assault, marital dissolution, child custody disputes, abuse of vulnerable adults or a foreign protection order.)

The DNA sample would not be opened or analyzed by a Washington State Patrol Crime Lab technician unless judicial findings of probable cause were established. The sample would then be uploaded to the national Combined DNA Index System (CODIS). The only information that is added to CODIS is the originating lab identifier, a randomly generated specimen number, 13 genetic markers that do not contain any medical information other than gender, and an identifier for the lab analyst. If the court does not affirm probable cause, the untested sample would be destroyed.

As a member of the House of Representatives, Darneille unsuccessfully sponsored a bill addressing this issue. When asked why that is, Darneille said that there is a concern among some lawmakers that there is constitutional doubt as to whether or not DNA collection upon arrest is a legal search under the U.S. Constitution’s Fourth Amendment and Article VII of the Washington State Constitution.

The United States Supreme Court weighed in on this issue in June 2013 in its ruling of Maryland v King. The majority opinion states that “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.”

“I was ready to sponsor the bill last year, but wanted to wait on the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling. With that in our favor, we have the technology and the means to use DNA as another law enforcement tool,” said Darneille, now in the second year of her first term as a senator. “I expect that, if passed, this law would face its own legal challenge in our state. I believe however, it is a conversation worth having and a law worth passing. We would gain so much if we moved forward with this legislation to reduce violent crimes against women and children, solve cold cases, exonerate the innocent, and identify and hold accountable the people who commit these heinous crimes.”

Studies of states that have passed similar DNA collection upon arrest laws show higher numbers of direct matches between DNA collected and entered into the national system and the number of crimes that have been solved as a result. Darneille’s bill would make Washington the 28th state in the country to adopt this type of law.

“If, in our state, we can pass this law and protect women, children, the elderly and the vulnerable,” said Darneille, “we will have tipped the scales of justice in favor of those who have been wronged.”