State Rep. Rob Teilhet (D-Smyrna) - who's running for state attorney general in this summer's Democratic Primary - on Monday announced plans to file a bill that would require anyone arrested in this state for a felony to provide a DNA sample at the same time that fingerprints and mug shots are taken. At the present time DNA evidence is only collected upon conviction, and only for certain crimes.
"DNA evidence is the single best tool law enforcement has to get repeat offenders off our streets," Teilhet said at his press conference in the Capitol. "An expanded DNA database would also free people who've been wrongly convicted. This bill is about making sure that the right people are locked up and prevented from hurting someone else."
Georgia would not be breaking new ground with such a law, he said, as the federal government and 21 states, including Alabama, Florida, South Carolina and Tennessee, already have such collection-upon-arrest laws. His proposal is supported by Keep Georgia Safe, the Georgia Network to End Sexual Assault, the Surviving Parents Coalition and DNA Saves.
Others, however, were reserving judgment on the proposal. Among them was Cobb Board of Commissioners Chairman Sam Olens, who noted, "While it is a good idea, absent a search warrant, DNA samples taken prior to conviction would appear to be unconstitutional." That, to be sure is a valid consideration that must be weighed prior to passage of any such law.
Is the mere suspicion of having committed a criminal act - a suspicion serious enough to warrant an arrest and trip to jail - sufficient to mandate that a suspect produce such evidence? Or should DNA evidence be considered little different than providing fingerprints and posing for a mug shot?
Secondly, does it make sense to require the provision of DNA evidence for every type of felony arrest? Are there some felonies that would have a low "rate of return" on such testing?
And that brings us to the cost involved. A Georgia Bureau of Investigation spokesman said Monday that complying with Teilhet's bill would cost approximately $10 million in construction and an additional annual operating cost of $7 million or so. It's possible, however, that some of those costs would be offset by the savings from crimes that did not occur because those who would have committed them had already been snared by DNA evidence.
Teilhet's bill raises many questions and possibilities. Georgia has always been a strong law-and-order state, and expanded DNA testing is worth serious consideration.