BY DEVIN HEFLIN, TIMES STAFF WRITER
CENTRAL FLORIDA - In the model of most law enforcement agencies across the nation, prescreened DNA to link evidence in crimes is a priority in solving once cold cases or apprehending loose offenders, but community groups are protesting that this practice condones profiling and criminalizes even non-violent offenders.
Scores of states have also expanded their DNA testing and storage programs.
Prior to April 2009, it was reported the federal government genetically tracked only convicts. But, the FBI joined 15 states that year in collecting DNA samples from those awaiting trial and collected DNA from detained immigrants — the vanguard of a growing class of genetic registrants.
Recall, Florida made state number sixteen in the retention of DNA profiles, as was covered in the late June 2009 edition of The Orlando Times that year.
The F.B.I., with a DNA database of 6.7 million profiles, expects to accelerate its growth rate from 80,000 new entries a year to 1.2 million by 2018 — a 15-fold increase. F.B.I. officials say they expect DNA processing backlogs — which now stand at more than 500,000 cases — to increase.
Law enforcement officials say that expanding the DNA databanks to include legally innocent people will help solve more violent crimes. They point out that DNA has helped convict thousands of criminals and has exonerated more than 200 wrongfully convicted people.
“This sets a precedent that anyone at any time can be criminalized, and considering the history of this country, that’s been the case.” Said Beverly Neal, President of the Orange County Branch NAACP.
The local branch, which focuses on prison and criminal justice reform at many local facilities, has passed six resolutions since 2011 on this matter, in addition to poor living conditions in prisons, which attributed to other forms of diseases in various inmate populations.
“This country will become a genetic surveillance society.” Said Neal, citing the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution.
The Innocence Project is another organization which has frontline combatted this issue.
"We don't approve of arrestee databases. Virginia, for instance... passed a statute permitting the DNA sampling of anyone who is arrested... We oppose this because it invites police to engage in pretext arrests: arresting somebody without probable cause, just to get a biological specimen…” said Peter Neufeld, co-director and co-founder of the Innocence Project.
In Florida, innocent men have been exonerated of offenses on the effort of the Innocence Project. That number now totals to twenty-two cases which have been overturned and led to the exoneration of previously convicted men.
Charles Brooks, a Black man facing Florida’s death penalty for a 1992 Tampa killing, was cleared of all charges and released from prison in 2006, when DNA failed to link him to the scene of the crime.
Jamal Larkins is another case. He was released in 2009 in Bartow, Florida, after new DNA results proved that he was not the rapist of a female fourteen year old high-school student.
In 2015, the Orange County Sheriff’s office opened its new DNA testing lab, which permits for pre-screened results and faster methods of crime solving.
“This doesn’t target non-violent offenders. This method is to bring closure to victims and to solve victim prone crimes.” Said Sheriff Jerry Demings.
With this method, Orange County Sheriff’s office has worked in collusion with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, which has had the practice since state adoption in 2009.