Gov. Rick Snyder approved a number of bills concerning criminal justice Jan. 12, including one that requires DNA collection of those accused of felonies, including nonviolent ones, upon arraignment and another that expands the type of offenses that can be expunged from a person’s criminal record. Senate Bills 105-107 were signed with the general intent to decrease overall recidivism. According to Snyder, the DNA collection bill was specifically designed to “help identify suspects earlier in the investigation process.” Though expungement will likely help stimulate economic recovery of past criminals, the DNA sample collection of all accused is invasive and violates basic privacy rights of those who are supposed to be “innocent until proven guilty.”
Before Senate Bill 105 was signed into law, DNA samples were only taken from suspected felons in cases of violent crime. Now, this sampling at the time of arraignment will be expanded to suspects of nonviolent crime, including those accused of drug, property and white-collar offenses. In the event that a suspect is charged with an offense, their sample is to be forwarded and kept for departmental use. Concurrently, the approval of House Bill 4186 expands the ability for all persons with one felony change and two misdemeanors to petition for expungement five years after their sentence is completed. Previously, expungement was only possible for those under 21. The list of non-expungeable crimes has been expanded to add felonies including second-degree child abuse and terrorism offenses.
The new law broadening expungement ability will help those who have completed their criminal sentencing recover economically and avoid the stigma associated with felonies. According to the Center for Economic and Policy Research, ex-convicts are seen as significantly less employable, and employment losses from the neglect to hire these individuals lowered the nation’s GDP between $57 and $65 billion in 2008. Increased employability will not only benefit the past offenders themselves, but may also stimulate the state economy. In addition, those with expunged offenses may have a better chance at being approved for housing, which may help to decrease the significant rates of homelessness among ex-offenders.
Though collecting DNA samples at the time of arraignment may be beneficial when convicting repeat violent offenders, it’s an utterly unnecessary protocol for those accused of nonviolent crimes. The Senate Fiscal Agency estimates that the state collects approximately 3,000 felony suspect DNA samples yearly and predicts that, with the new law, that amount may rise to roughly 12,000, an increase that would not come without a cost. Fingerprints are already taken upon arrest, so the need for using additional DNA samples to track repeat offenders is unclear. More importantly, though the DNA samples will only be tested after the accused individual is charged with the offense, the fact that this personal information is on the record is a gross violation of privacy and infringes upon the central tenet of the criminal justice system; that one is innocent until proven guilty. Also concerning is the penalty for a suspect’s refusal to provide the sample. Doing so would result in a fine of not more than $1,000 or up to one year in jail — an unnecessary measure.
Snyder’s approval of Senate Bills 105-107 simultaneously benefits certain ex-offenders while threatening the privacy of those accused of nonviolent felonies. Ultimately, broadening expungement after five years for certain offenses is economically positive for both the individual and the state. Conversely, mandatory DNA collection upon arraignment of the accused violates privacy and the presumption of innocence, which could lead to premature decision-making in criminal cases. Together, the new laws will affect those ending criminal sentences and those who may not have them, for better and for worse, respectively.