House approves bill offering grants to collect DNA samples from arrestees

The bill is named after a girl who was raped and burned to death in New Mexico in 2003.

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Several Democrats said they support the goals of the bill, which is to increase the chances of solving crimes and arresting those responsible. But some said the bill was being rushed to the floor at a time when the Supreme Court is about to rule on whether collecting DNA samples from suspects is constitutional.

Rep. Mel Watt (D-S.C.) said the Supreme Court is about to rule in the coming months on this issue, since it has decided to review the case Maryland v King case. Watt said he voted for a similar version of this bill before, but said this case is raising new questions that should be answered before Congress acts.

"The last time I voted for the bill, or one similar to it, I viewed the collection of arrestee DNA as essentially the same from a constitutional point of view to the collection of fingerprints, which are collected and preserved in the database for arrestees whether there's a conviction or not," he said.

"Since then, however, serious questions have been raised about the constitutionality of arrestee DNA collection, and the preservation of that information in a database where there has been on subsequent conviction."

Watt was joined by House Judiciary Committee ranking member John Conyers (D-Mich.), who said members have "tossed procedure into the wastebasket."

Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.) argued that Congress should not support practices that could be seen as unconstitutional, and said he fears these practices will hurt minorities.

"I'm also concerned that this practice would perpetuate the current racial disparities in our criminal justice system," Johnson said. "As more minority DNA profiles are included in databases, more minorities are potential suspects, regardless of their actual guilt.

"We cannot allow this injustice to blossom in a free country where people are presumed innocent until proven guilty."

House passage sends the bill to the Senate, which may simply ignore it given the Democratic opposition seen in the House.