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New Jersey Proposes DNA Samples for Petty Crimes

People convicted of petty crimes in New Jersey would be required to provide a DNA sample under a proposed state law. Lawmakers say the bill, which likens itself to a similar law in New York, is intended to help close unsolved crimes. By expanding the amount of genetic material collected, sponsors of the bill hope to improve the accuracy and size of the criminal database.

Under the proposed bill, all New Jersey offenders convicted of a first- to fourth-degree crime would need to submit either a saliva or blood sample after being found guilty. Included are adults and juveniles convicted of shoplifting less than $200 worth of merchandise, trespass, criminal mischief, prostitution or disorderly conduct. Those who refuse to comply with the testing would also be found guilty of committing a fourth-degree crime and could face up to 18 months in prison and up to a $10,000 fine.

Critics of the bill call the DNA requirement an invasion of privacy and a violation of constitutional rights. These opponents worry that opening the door for law enforcement to take DNA samples from those convicted of small-time crimes could lead to other, more serious intrusive acts in the name of justice. With the expanded criminal database in play, some people may be wrongfully targeted for future prosecution.

One advantage, however, is that law enforcement may be better able to solve open cases and free individuals who are wrongfully imprisoned.

It will be up to lawmakers to decide whether the benefits of the proposal outweigh the costs despite some serious constitutional concerns. The bill is under review by the Senate Law and Public Safety Committee.

SOURCE: The Trentonian, "NJ legislator proposes taking DNA samples," Paul Mickle, April 2, 2012

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