The federal government is seriously considering a plan that would allow police officers to collect DNA samples from suspects once they are arrested. Many have pointed out that this measure will further enhance the police databank, which already utilizes fingerprinting and photographing. Proponents believe that this proposal is a logical progression in law enforcements’ information-gathering efforts because it will help police solve crimes and could potentially crack open unsolved cold cases. DNA analysis is an established technique that is employed by forensic scientists to identify individuals by their DNA profile and could be crucial to prove guilt or innocence of an individual.
The call to modify legislation has intensified in recent days with Calgary Police Chief, Rick Hanson, throwing his support behind the initiative and echoing the sentiment that obtaining DNA samples, through practices like cheek swabs, will aid police work. Currently, legislation allows DNA samples to be taken from those who have been convicted of a wide range of offenses, from murder to dangerous driving. By increasing the number of entries in the DNA databank, police can link or eliminate suspects to a crime scene. In the United State of America, the Supreme Court had ruled earlier in June that police can take a DNA samples from someone who has been arrested.
Criminal lawyers and civil rights advocates have challenged the government’s assertion that these measures are problem-free, as they cite privacy concerns and other issues. Edward Prutschi, a partner and criminal lawyer at Bytensky Prutschi Shikhman, touches on some of these issues and discusses this proposal. Mr. Prutschi first discusses that naturally, the upside for law enforcement is that it gives them a greater chance to solve a case if their databank is bigger. Mr. Prutschi also comments on the difference between DNA and fingerprinting stating that while they are both important in a criminal trial, in a forensic sense, DNA provides an incredible depth of insight, from being able to specify the ethnicity, gender, his/ her proneness to certain diseases etc. of a person.
Mr. Prutschi then keys-in on the issue from a criminal defense perspective and says that yes, criminal lawyers would be seriously disadvantaged if their clients were forensically linked to a crime scene – just like they were prior to this proposal. However, Mr. Prutschi questions the intrusive necessity of such legislation because if the police wanted to obtain the DNA of an individual, they can already apply to a judge for a warrant ordering the individual to give their surrender a DNA sample. Mr. Prutschi adds that there is a serious privacy violation in enacting such sweeping measures because they force people who have not been convicted of a crime to give their DNA either for the purposes of self-incrimination or to hypothetically link them to other offences for which they weren’t even being initially investigated. Such actions risk psychologically criminalizizing many individuals who are innocent.
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