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Supreme Court DNA Ruling’s Effect in VA

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The Supreme Court's recent ruling that expands permission for police to take DNA swabs following an arrest is affecting state laws across the country. 

Before the Maryland v. King ruling, Virginia law already permitted police to take DNA tests from those arrested for serious offenses. The ruling effectively expanded that to all arrests. Now, law enforcement and legal experts are weighing in about what will happen in Virginia. 

"A third of Americans have been arrested for something," said Brandon Garrett, a UVA law professor. 

Right now, the law in Virginia requires DNA testing for people arrested for serious offenses. But a few weeks ago, the Supreme Court upheld a broader standard, one that allows DNA testing when arrests are made even for relatively minor offenses. 

Garrett has commented in national publications about the ruling: "We now have opened the gates to a nearly universal DNA databank in this country where people's DNA can be stored indefinitely and searched against any unsolved crime in the country." 

Albemarle County Sheriff Chip Harding has been instrumental in developing Virginia's DNA database. Nicknamed "the DNA dude," Harding helped get felon DNA processed, and as a result the crime-solving rate in Virginia drastically improved. Now, he is advocating for change in Virginia law. 

"I'm advocating with those that are running for office and some elected officials now to consider legislation to expand taking DNA from convicted misdemeanors in Virginia," said Albemarle County Sheriff Chip Harding. 

So people not only arrested for felonies, but convicted of criminal misdemeanors could also be tested under Harding's proposal. He says serial killers and rapists would have been caught earlier if this proposal was already in place.

But legal experts say it's the federal government - more than Virginia - that has a stake in DNA testing. 

"The FBI is building a huge computer base of DNA virtually of every American citizen so if you want to look into the future all of us will have some kind of DNA sample on file," said John Whitehead, president of the Rutherford Institute. 

Harding says neither today's law nor his proposed changed law would permit DNA testing for minor infractions. So, for right now, no DNA testing for arrests or convictions of minor traffic violations, trespassing or disorderly conduct. But experts say even this is subject to change by the Supreme Court's decision.

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