In November voters passed Proposition 69, requiring all felons to submit DNA to a statewide database. Two months later, Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies arrested a suspect in a 2-1/2-year-old murder case thanks to that law and the database it expanded.
Detectives had turned up no major leads in the August 2001 kidnap and stabbing death of Christina Burmeister of Cerritos, a 20-year-old student at Cal Poly Pomona.
Burmeister set out for a sorority event at a Pomona fraternity house. Her body was found the next morning inside her pickup truck on a state Highway 39 turnout in San Gabriel Canyon.
Authorities found a discarded cigar butt with her body, but it wasn’t until the passage of Proposition 69 that the piece of evidence yielded a breakthrough.
Deputies arrested James Winslow Dixon Jr., 32, on Jan. 14, but withheld information about the arrest until Monday because they were seeking at least one more suspect in Burmeister’s murder. The state had held a DNA profile from Dixon, described as a former Monrovia gang member, since he was released from prison in 1993.
Authorities were unsure then whether Dixon met the criteria for offenders who should go into the database. But Proposition 69’s passage cleared that up by making it mandatory that all convicted felons’ DNA go into the database. Dixon’s DNA was entered and it matched DNA taken from the cigar butt found in Burmeister’s vehicle.
Prop. 69 worked exactly as envisioned in this case, allowing authorities to crack a crime that had so far proved unsolvable. We applaud that aspect of the law, and the work of law enforcement authorities in implementing it.
But the law has an Orwellian flaw.
Unfortunately, the law doesn’t stop at convicted felons. It mandates that, by 2009, all adults and juveniles who are arrested on a felony charge not just those who have been convicted will be sampled and placed in the “all-felon’ database.
That raises major invasion-of- privacy issues.
We have no objections to taking the fingerprints of anyone arrested for a crime, because fingerprints are not useful for anything besides identification they tell nothing else about the person.
That’s not so with DNA, which holds a person’s complete genetic profile. That sort of information could have huge implications for a person’s medical insurability, and no doubt for many other aspects of life in the future that we haven’t imagined yet.
We consider it an unreasonable search and seizure, a violation of our constitutional personal protections, for an innocent person to have to yield that information. And since Americans are innocent until proven guilty, they should not give up the right to DNA privacy unless and until convicted of a felony.
That database of criminals is no place for innocent people.