Virginia keeps a DNA database in which a person convicted of a crime has his or her DNA collected and kept. This DNA could link a person to a past or future crime. In some cases, it could exonerate a person accused of a crime. However, when it comes to DNA analysis, as well as the taking of fingerprints and photographs after a conviction, it is important that one’s due process rights aren’t violated.
Virginia Governor Ralph Northam recently signed into law two bills regarding mandatory DNA testing and analysis for certain individuals and expanding fingerprint databases in the state. Under one of the new laws, those who receive a conviction for misdemeanor battery, assault or criminal trespassing must submit to DNA analysis. The other new law makes it mandatory for police to include fingerprints and a photograph in the reports for those who are convicted for disorderly conduct or trespassing.
The Virginia Secretary of Public Safety approved of the bills, as they expanded Virginia’s DNA database, stating that DNA is useful not just for proving guilt, but also for proving innocence. The bills also received the endorsement of the Virginia State Crime Commission. However, the bills received opposition from the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia, which stated concerns regarding due process rights and the expectation of privacy. They also expressed concerns about false arrests and convictions.
While these bills are meant to protect the public safety, one might ask whether they are too broad. What is important to take from this, however, is that the stakes for those who commit trespassing, disorderly conduct, criminal trespassing, assault or battery are raised. Having one’s DNA analyzed or fingerprints and photograph included in one’s record could, perhaps even falsely, connect a person to another crime. When a person is convicted of a misdemeanor crime they should not be subjected to acts that violate their due process rights. Those who are fighting charges like those mentioned above will want to keep these new laws in mind as they formulate their criminal defense strategy.