The Vermont legislature will consider expanding its role in a national DNA data base.
Right now, Vermont limits the collection of DNA samples to convicted felons. A national expert addressed ACLU members on the subject Saturday in Montpelier. Tania Simoncelli said, "It's like DNA is starting to drive criminal investigations."
Simoncelli is a New York City-based expert on DNA and a skeptic of what she considers over-reliance on the genetic marker that has led to high profile criminal prosecutions. Such as Howard Godfrey, identified in 2005 through DNA as the killer of Patricia Scoville fourteen years after the woman's rape and murder in Stowe in 1991. Godfrey already was a convicted felon. That's why his DNA was found in the data base and matched to the murder scene so many years later.
Simoncelli says the ACLU has no problem with using DNA as a tool in criminal prosecutions, but does have a problem with expanding the DNA data bank to include anyone who gets arrested. "You shouldn't be put into the data base unless or until you're convicted of a crime," she told Channel 3, "And that's the appropriate place to draw the line from a constitutional perspective."
Simoncelli addressed what she called ten myths about DNA, including an assumption that the science is foolproof. It isn't, she said. She said DNA sampling is prone to human error and deliberate tampering. Moreover, DNA, under scrutiny in a laboratory, can be used for all kinds of purposes, such as identifying a person's likelihood of catching a specific disease.
ACLU-Vermont's director, Allen Gilbert, said, "What's happening is that this is such a new technology, and it has so many potentials, some of which we haven't even seen yet, that the application is way far ahead of the discussions around whether using DNA in this way or that is proper, legal and an invasion of privacy."
The ACLU's concerns over privacy are not shared by some others, such as State Senator Vince Illuzzi, the Essex County Prosecutor. "In my judgement, collecting DNA is as easy as collecting fingerprints," he told Channel 3 later. "If you don't do the crime you don't have the fingerprints, you don't leave the DNA. On the other hand, if you're suspected and suspected incorrectly of having committed an offense, wither the fingerprints or DNA will help exonerate you."
The Scoville case would have been solved even with the limits favored by the ACLU -- because the murderer already had a felony record. But how far Vermont should go with the DNA data base will be debated and decided by the legislature.
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