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West Virginia legislators reject bill to expand law enforcement database of DNA

WV lawmakers voted against a bill that would have allowed taking DNA from adults arrested on felony charges of violence against someone, burglary or a case involving a minor.

West Virginia lawmakers on Thursday soundly rejected a bill that would have expanded a law enforcement database to include collecting DNA samples from people arrested for certain felonies.

Some legislators cited privacy concerns during a lengthy debate before the 66-30 vote by the Republican-dominated House of Delegates. Three members were absent.

"This is just another step away from our liberties," said Republican Del. Rolland Jennings of Preston County.

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Current state law requires a DNA sample to be taken from anyone convicted of a felony and certain misdemeanors. The bill would have expanded the law to obtain DNA through cheek swabs from adults arrested on felony charges of violence against someone, a burglary or a case involving a minor. The samples would be sent to a state crime lab and the results stored in an FBI database.

"If you don’t want your DNA taken, don’t do a heinous crime," said Republican Del. Scot Heckert, a bill supporter.

But some Democrats were concerned about the bill’s potential infringement on Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable searches and seizures.

"This bill is extremely broad," Ohio County Democrat Shawn Fluharty said. "It’s dangerous territory to put people in a DNA database simply because they’ve been arrested just for probable cause and accused of a crime."

Mason County Republican Jonathan Pinson, a bill supporter, said it was no more of a constitutional concern than collecting fingerprints from suspects. Pinson said lawmakers should be more concerned about helping crime victims whose cases remain unsolved "because we don't know where to look" for evidence.

The bill also contained steps to expunge someone's DNA records from the database if they were cleared of the felony charges.

Prior to the vote, the House twice rejected bids to halt debate on the bill.

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