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DNA collection at your arrest: What you should know

Mandatory DNA testing of people under arrest: the police love it, but defenders of civil liberties say that it is helping decay the presumption of innocence, which has long been part of the bedrock of the United States legal system.

Here are a few things you should know if you're arrested for a felony or a "crime of violence" in Rhode Island:

1. You will be subjected to a DNA test. At your arrest, you will be informed that your DNA will be taken with a cheek swab at the same time your photograph and fingerprints are taken.

2. The DNA isn't supposed to be used until after your arraignment, when you are formally charged.

3. The DNA will then be entered into a national database called the Combined DNA Index System. CODIS not only stores your DNA for potential future use, should it ever be located at a crime scene again, but it seeks to match it up against any unsolved past crimes as well. Another record of the DNA will be loaded into a state electronic system as well.

-- You will be asked to sign an acknowledgement that you have the right to have the DNA removed from the database under certain circumstances, although that form doesn't carefully spell out the circumstances or the method for assured removal.

-- If the charges are dropped due to a lack of probable cause, the DNA is supposed to be destroyed immediately. You can request that the DNA be removed from the system if your conviction is overturned, charges get dismissed for another reason, you're eventually convicted of a lessor offense that doesn't qualify for DNA collection, you're pardoned or your sentence is deferred.

-- The database is supposed to be reviewed periodically to see that it doesn't include DNA it shouldn't. However, there's no real guarantee how well that system will work or even how it will be done, given the sheer volume of samples being collected.

Civil libertarians view this as a violation of the rights of the innocent and an invasion of personal privacy. If you have been subjected to DNA testing during an arrest and there's a good chance that DNA ended up in the state and federal tracking systems, consider hiring a criminal defense attorney to make sure that your rights are protected and the sample is removed.

Source: sos.ri.gov, "Rules and Regulations Related to the State of Rhode Island DNA Database & Databank As Amended October 2015," accessed Jan. 31, 2017

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