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March 26, 2018

The ACLU of Virginia sent Governor Ralph Northam a letter urging him to veto Senate Bill 565 and House Bill 1249, which would add more misdemeanor offenses to the list of crimes for which any offender's DNA must be collected upon conviction. 

"Already in Virginia, the mandatory collection of DNA has gone beyond what is reasonable or justifiable, raising significant concerns about the privacy rights of people convicted of minor offenses and many who have not even been convicted of a crime," wrote the letter. 

"On its face, Virginia’s practices with regard to DNA collection and databank usage are unjustifiably overbroad. Established in 1989, the Virginia Department of Forensic Science’s (DFS) DNA Databank has ballooned every year now to include 426,534 entries, or about one in every 20 people living in the Commonwealth, according to statistics published on DFS’s website. This is even as the number of “hits” to the databank is in, down from 933 in 2010 to 531 so far in 2017. Further, the majority type of crimes being solved or assisted in being solved through such hits – 65.6 percent - are for non-violent burglaries or robberies, rather than the heinous violent offenses the databank was originally set up to ward against.

The ACLU of Virginia strongly opposes any further expansion of the list of offenses for which DNA collection would be required, for the following reasons:

  • Increasing the size of DNA databases actually raises the likelihood of false matches. Recent studies have confirmed that matches between DNA profiles from different people are far from impossible, including between close relatives, which would lead to false arrests and convictions.
  • Increasing the size of a databank also increases the possibility of ethnic bias, meaning that the overrepresentation of particular ethnic groups in the criminal justice system – and thus also in the DNA databank – may lead to a disproportionate number of arrests of innocent people within that ethnic group.
  • Requiring DNA collection from people who have only been charged but not convicted of a crime raises serious due process concerns and calls into question the fundamental commitment to the doctrine of presumed innocence.
  • Privacy concerns related to the practice of DNA collection in general cannot be overstated. DNA inherently contains the most personal information about any person, including predictive information about a person’s predisposition to illnesses or certain behaviors of which the individual themselves may not have knowledge. Requiring persons convicted of only minor crimes or arrested but not convicted of any crime is needlessly invasive.
  • There is no quantitative evidence supporting the hypothesis that expanded DNA databases will lead to more “cold hits” – unexpected matches that occur when evidence from old, unsolved cases are compared against a databank – because the state does not track such matches to conviction. 

The ACLU of Virginia’s believes the proposed expansion of the databank to include additional Class One misdemeanors raises serious constitutional concerns and could expose the Commonwealth to costly, detrimental legal actions. We urge the Governor to veto these bills and instead consider supporting the roll-back some of the intrusive, problematic provisions already codified, including mandatory collections for violent felony arrests. 

You can read and download the full letter in the attached document below.