Rhode Island’s DNA sampling bill, passed overwhelmingly by lawmakers in 2014 and signed into law by the then Governor Lincoln Chafee, expands the criteria for collecting DNA and entering it on state and federal databases. Up until the new law, DNA could only be collected from individuals who were convicted of a felony.
The new law, which became effective July 1, 2015, allows the police to collect the DNA and upload the DNA forensic profile onto the state and FBI databases if a person is arrested of a felony. Each state in the United States can set the criteria for collecting and reporting DNA profiles.
The felonies covered by the new law involving arrestees include suspicion of: murder, manslaughter, first-degree arson, kidnapping with intent to extort, larceny, first and second degree child molestation, assault with intent to murder, robbery or rape, entering a dwelling with intent to murder.
The DNA sample is not placed on the statewide database until the accused is arraigned or fails to show up for an initial court hearing.
State attorney generals, prosecutors, and police have been advocating for the expansion of DNA collection from serious felonies to all crimes—even misdemeanors.
This law sets aside the “presumption of innocence” that has been the foundation of American jurisprudence. Far more people are charged with crimes than are convicted. Or they may be prosecuted for a lesser crime. Therefore collecting DNA from those who are charged but not convicted will greatly expand the forensic DNA databanks . If a person is found innocent of the charge, their DNA remains in the databank, unless they qualify to petition to have it removed and they file the appropriate paperwork. If a person is found guilty of a lesser crime, such as a misdemeanor not covered by the law, they must petition the state if they wish to expunge their DNA profile.
Many people charged with a felony who are not convicted and who do not have a lawyer lack the knowledge that they need to have their DNA profile removed.
Officers in Rhode Island have been instructed to include a DNA sample into the booking process along with fingerprints and a photo.
Innocent people who are not successful in getting their DNA profile expunged will thereafter be under genetic surveillance. Every crime scene DNA sample will be uploaded to the state databank comparing it to every sample in the databank—even samples of those who have never been convicted of a crime. If there is a close match, it is likely that a family member of an innocent person will be subject to police investigation and surveillance, with no probable cause other than the probabilistic predictions of a familial search.