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Bill allowing DNA collection for felony crimes struck down

CHARLESTON — The House of Delegates defeated a bill Thursday that would have allowed DNA to be collected by police from those arrested for some felony crimes.

Following a long debate, delegates defeated HB 4627 on a 30-66 vote.

The bill would have allowed police to collect DNA from a person arrested for a felony crime “of violence against a person, burglary or felony offense where the victim was a minor child.”

The DNA collected would be stored until the completion of the criminal case against the person arrested. If the person was eventually found to be not guilty or the charges were dropped, the accused could petition the court to have the DNA taken out of the data base.

The bill sparked a debate about personal freedoms.

“I’m just shocked that with this super majority that we are taking up legislation to create a DNA data base,” Del. Shawn Fluharty, D-Ohio, said. “I don’t think that was a talking point prior to coming down here for any of you.”

Del. J.B. Akers, R-Kanawha, said the bill included clear safeguards for privacy concerns.

“What I do know is that if we do not pass this bill there will be someone who is a victim of a crime and we’ll never identify the person who committed the crime against them. That will happen,” Akers predicted.

Supporters of the bill cited a U.S. Supreme Court 5-4 decision that said taking DNA at the time of an arrest is legal. Del. Joey Garcia, D-Marion, cautioned fellow delegates about leaning too much on that decision.

“Just because the Supreme Court has said we can do something that doesn’t mean we should do something,” Garcia said.

Del. Jonathan Pinson, R-Mason, a former deputy sheriff, said taking DNA is no different than fingerprints being taken at the time of arrest. He said Thursday’s debate was leaving out one key group.

“No one here today has spoken about the victims of crime,” Pinson said. “I would submit this is not a constitutional violation.”

A motion to postpone action on the bill for an indefinite period of time was defeated on a 48-48 vote. Delegates also voted down an attempt to delay further discussion on the bill for three days.