Senate advances SB 53, requiring certain individuals to submit to DNA analysis after arrest

By Autumn Shelton, RealWV

CHARLESTON, W.Va. – A committee substitute version of Senate Bill 53, which would require certain individuals to submit to a DNA analysis upon arrest, was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee on Monday. 

This bill had been tabled for further review last week by members of the Senate Judiciary Committee following a question of constitutionality. 

As the bill is currently written, anyone 18 years of age or older who has been arrested on a charge of felony violence against a person, burglary or offense against a minor must provide a DNA sample that may be searched against state and nationwide DNA samples. 

Additionally, anyone who has been convicted of a felony as well as those who have been convicted of sexual offenses as described in state code §61-8B-1 or child abuse as described in §61-8D-1 must submit their DNA. 

The bill clarifies that a DNA sample may be taken via a buccal (cheek) swab. 

During Monday’s discussion, Sen. Laura Chapman, R-Ohio, moved to amend the bill to prohibit the entry of a DNA sample into the state and federal (CODIS) DNA databases until a person has been convicted of a crime. 

Senator Laura Chapman, R-Ohio.

She argued that the fourth amendment to The U.S. Constitution protects against unreasonable searches. 

“The Constitution is there to protect the innocent and I am all for getting violent criminals off the street, but the ends do not justify the means,” Sen. Chapman stated. “We cannot trample on the fourth amendment.” 

Sen. Majority Whip Ryan Weld, R-Brooke, explained that 36 states provide for the submission of DNA upon arrest, as does the federal government. He added that a buccal swab has been determined to not be an “unreasonable search” under the fourth amendment. 

Senator Ryan Weld, R-Brooke.

“We are in the small minority that does not obtain DNA on arrestees,” Sen. Weld said, adding that this bill limits the scope of crimes for which a DNA sample may be taken. 

A fiscal note, included with the bill, states that the West Virginia State Police’s estimated total cost per year regarding this bill will amount to $356,873. 

The bill also sets forth rules for which a person may apply for expungement of their DNA record from both the state and national database in the event they are acquitted or not indicted on the charge(s) for which they were arrested, counsel stated. 

According to the bill, an individual who is eligible to have their DNA record expunged must “at no cost, submit a written application for expungement to the circuit court of the county in which the charge supporting the taking of a DNA sample was filed.” 

Those in favor of the bill believe that it will help catch criminals who have committed a crime and help exonerate those who have been falsely convicted. 

After much discussion, Sen. Chapman’s amendment was voted down.

This bill is now headed to the Senate Finance Committee. 

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