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Crist Signs DNA Testing Bill

Calling it a “common sense” tool in the war on crime, Gov. Charlie Crist signed a measure on Tuesday expanding the number of people whose DNA will be collected and included in a statewide database.

Over the objections of critics that the measure will result in innocent people being lumped with convicted felons in having their DNA kept in a state databank, Crist signed SB 2276 among a handful of public safety measures.

"This makes sense,” Crist said at the signing. “This is common sense and the right thing to do."

Florida joins at least 20 other states with similar laws that require DNA testing of some or all detainees arrested for felonies. Florida law previously required DNA testing only of those who were convicted.

The state law calls for a phase-in, with the most violent offenses being catalogued first. By 2019, all suspects arrested or charged with any felony will have their DNA collected.

The provision has drawn fire from civil rights groups that say it oversteps constitutional protections and expands the role of law enforcement from apprehension to surveillance.

“In America, people are presumed innocent until proven guilty,” said Courtney Strickland, spokeswoman for the ACLU of Florida. “Thousands of innocent people will now be included in a criminal database.”

A 2006 federal law requires DNA collection for individuals facing federal felony charges. Last month a federal judge in California upheld the DNA Fingerprint Act. The law allows federal law enforcement officials to collect DNA from individuals "arrested, facing charges, or convicted" of federal offenses and is expected to add 1.2 million names to the national DNA registry every year.

The federal law, however, requires DNA to be expunged if charges are not filed.

Backers say the Florida law will significantly expand the size of state’s current DNA database and assist law enforcement officers in fighting crime.

During debate on the issue, supporters said that police often find when they catch a serial predator that the person had never been convicted, but did have at least one prior arrest.

Backers say adding more DNA to the database increases the likelihood of finding a match even on old cases, although, it also may add to processing backlogs.

Citing a federal audit and audits in other states, critics say the inclusion of thousands of innocent suspects will further delay processing DNA samples from of bona fide felons.

“The states have seemed to have bought the line that the bigger the database the better,” Strickland said. “As you expand the case file. You end up making the hay stake bigger and bigger.”

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