HARRISBURG - The Pennsylvania House of Representatives this week voted down legislation to mandate the collection of DNA from persons arrested for certain crimes without a court order. The American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania praised the House for its vote.
"The government is constitutionally mandated to explain to a court why it wants to search someone," said Reggie Shuford, executive director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania. "This bill undermined that fundamental liberty by allowing warrantless searches of a person's body.
"We are grateful that the state House defended liberty."
When Senate Bill 775 reached the floor of the House on Tuesday, it mandated DNA collection of all persons arrested for a list of specific crimes. The House overwhelmingly passed an amendment introduced by Representative Brandon Neuman (D-Washington County) that deleted the DNA collection provision by a vote of 132-63. All but three House Democrats and 47 House Republicans, including Speaker of the House Sam Smith, voted "yes" on the Neuman amendment.
"The House vote sent a clear message," said Andy Hoover, legislative director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania. "There are certain constitutional lines that cannot be crossed."
On Wednesday, the House passed the narrowed bill. Later that evening, the state Senate amended the bill to reinsert the language to mandate DNA collection at arrest and passed it. The House adjourned Wednesday evening without considering the amended bill.
Under current Pennsylvania law, a person who is convicted of a felony or one of several misdemeanors has a DNA sample taken by the state and that sample is then sent to the Pennsylvania State Police and to the Federal Bureau of Investigation for analysis.
"A person who has been merely arrested has a higher level of privacy protections than a person who has been convicted," Hoover said. "A person who has been arrested is innocent under the law and is sometimes factually innocent. The government has no right to violate an innocent person's body without some reasonable justification, such as the need to match crime scene evidence.
"This bill mandated across-the-board DNA collection, regardless of the facts of the case and without approval from a court."
Both the state Senate and the state House have announced that they will not consider legislation on their scheduled session days in November.