A new S.C. law requiring DNA samples from people arrested on felony charges is overly intrusive and harkens to “totalitarian regimes,” the governor said Tuesday as he joined with the NAACP to call for the rule to be changed.
Gov. Mark Sanford and the civil rights organization asked legislators to undo last week's overrides of his veto on the bill. They said they're willing to use every tool they can to stop the law from taking effect.
Under the new law, samples would be taken when people are arrested for felonies, as well as for eavesdropping or peeping, which are misdemeanors on first offense and felonies thereafter. The Senate overrode the veto with a 38-0 vote last week. The House followed with a 86-25 vote.
Legislators hailed DNA samples as modern fingerprints that will solve and prevent violent crimes. Law enforcement officials argue the new law will be more efficient than having to seek court orders to collect samples.
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By that reasoning, Sanford said, police could do their jobs even more efficiently if they didn't have to obey the Constitution's Fourth Amendment against unlawful search and seizure.
“With all due respect, efficiency — supposed efficiency — is the mark of totalitarian regimes,” Sanford said at a news conference Tuesday with Lonnie Randolph, president of the state chapter of the NAACP.
General Assembly officials say there is no way for the legislature to undo the law other than by amending it next year. Sanford and the NAACP said lawsuits were being considered.
“Again, we'll look at any and all options as an administration to thwart this effort because, again, we think it breaks the premise of the American system, which is: One is innocent until proven guilty,” the governor said.
“If it means we have to use the courts to seek justice, then we will do that. All options are on the table,” Randolph said.
Randolph said it was “a little hard to believe that in 2008 — with all the issues that we are addressing economically, from a security standpoint of view — that this state would spend both taxpayers' money and time taking away the very rights and privileges that they should be assuring all citizens have available to them in South Carolina,” Randolph said.
State Law Enforcement Division Chief Reggie Lloyd, a Sanford appointee and member of his Cabinet, said the state can't afford to expand its DNA testing and evidence storage capacity now as federal money for the current DNA program SLED operates may be lost. He estimates it will cost the agency $4 million a year, including hiring up to 10 analysts and building facilities, to comply with the law.
Implementing DNA collection and testing will be expensive. “We don't want to see those resources drained from core law enforcement functions that both SLED and local law enforcement has to provide,” Lloyd said.
“At the end of the day, you can't take a DNA test without arresting somebody first,” he said.
But the legislature last week also said the DNA tests don't have to be implemented until money is available.