© 2022
Virginia's Public Radio
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

DNA Database: A Tool for Good or Evil?


In recent years, Virginia’s DNA database has tripled in size, due to state laws mandating the collection of DNA from felons.

There have been calls for further expansion of the database, to include more misdemeanors….though some civil libertarians object. 

"It's too late for Morgan. Save the next girl."

That's Gil Harrington, mother of the Virginia Tech student whose mysterious death spurred the family to press for deeper testing, including so-called familial DNA, something Virginia added to its forensic repertoire three years ago.

More and more states are expanding their DNA databanks, such as New York, which became the first state to collect DNA for all crimes, even misdemeanors,

"It's beyond being for or against it because it's already here. Half the states are already collecting DNA samples, and the Supreme Court upheld a Maryland law in a 5-4 decision to be taken in so-called serious cases," says Civil Libertarian, John Whitehead.

But what about those less serious cases? Four years ago, Jesse Matthew was fined $50 on a misdemeanor trespassing conviction.

Under a New York-sized law, Matthew's DNA would have entered the databank and brought his name to Fairfax police who had been fruitlessly searching for the perpetrator of a 2005 rape. Nine years later, On October 20, Fairfax indicted Matthew in that case. UVA law professor and avowed DNA fan Brandon Garrett, though  fears a too-large databank.

"Bigger is not necessarily better when it comes to DNA databases. The more profiles you have, the more room you have for human error."

The man whose push helped create Virginia's DNA databank 16 years ago recently began lobbying to expand it to include misdemeanor convicts but now, Chip Harding, the sheriff of Albemarle County, says he needs to take a break from lobbying to let investigations run and families grieve.

"Right now I just don't feel think it's an appropriate time for me to talk about it out of respect to the Grahams. At some point in the near future I think it would be appropriate to have the conversation with the community about how powerful it would be to expand the DNA databank."

Related Content