Senate measure allows use of force in DNA collection

Application is limited to convicted criminals

Posted: Sunday, April 10, 2005

The state Senate on Friday passed a bill allowing the use of force to collect DNA samples from prisoners. It also protects officers, municipalities and the state from being sued for taking the samples.

The House and Senate passed House Bill 124 unanimously, but a civil liberties group has concerns about the protections the measure provides the state at the cost of the rights of prisoners.

The House must approve changes made by the Senate before the measure is sent to Gov. Frank Murkowski to sign into law.

DNA evidence is commonly used as a tool by police to investigate crimes, and this measure helps create a better system to collect DNA, said Senate Judiciary Chairman Ralph Seekins, R-Fairbanks.

"For some convicted felons that are already in the system, there is no incentive for them to provide DNA evidence," Seekins said on the Senate floor Friday. "Anything added to their sentence for noncompliance would still be less than their sentence would be if convicted for other crimes through their DNA."

The measure passed the Senate 19-0, having broad support on both sides of the aisle despite earlier concerns by some lawmakers on the definition of "reasonable force." The bill passed the House on March 7 with a 37-0 vote.

Senate Minority Leader Johnny Ellis, D-Anchorage, said he would have had a problem with the bill if it authorized force against suspects. But since DNA can only be forcibly taken from convicted criminals under the measure, he said he was satisfied.

"This bill is clearly aimed at people who are convicted of crimes," Ellis said.

The bill also includes the clause that a person can't file a lawsuit against the state, a municipality or any of their employees for forcible DNA collection.

Wes Macleod-Ball, executive director of the Alaska Civil Liberties Union, said he believes the bill offers inappropriate protection to people and entities who should not be shielded.

"We think that it is an unnecessary intrusion into the prisoner's liberty interests," he said. "We're concerned that it's a power being given to the state that could be easily abused."

Corrections Commissioner Marc Antrim said jailers already undergo training on what he called the "use of force continuum" in which force is broken down into levels from verbal commands to deadly force. Once the bill becomes law, he said, policy will be formed on DNA collection to fit with that training, he said.

"We regularly subdue people and frankly I don't think we'll be using much force at all," Antrim said. "With this legislation in place, they'll be more willing to comply."

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