Priorities, Priorities

Priorities, priorities: Man, Buzz needs a vacation. Here we are about to tell you that the Collin County District Attorney's Office is preparing to start requiring all persons accepting felony plea bargains to provide DNA samples, and our lefty knee isn't even twitching, let alone jerking. We must be tired. The other explanation—that we're getting old and conservative—is too frightening to contemplate.

Where's our civil libertarian outrage? Here we have a tough Texas prosecutor getting ready to expand the reach of Big Brother to the very nucleus of our cells, and Buzz's thought is "Meh. Sounds about right."

Gregory Davis, the county's first assistant district attorney, says the office is working out the logistics of the plan—who will take the swabs of defendants' mouths—but expects it to be up and running in 10 days to two weeks. The samples would be sent to the Department of Public Safety for testing, with the information stored in the DPS' database and a similar nationwide database called the Combined DNA Index System, or CODIS. The costs for testing and storing the results would be borne by the DPS, Davis says.

Opponents complain that requiring the swabs as a condition of a plea bargain is coercive and invasive, and they fear it could be expanded to include misdemeanor cases, so even a minor infraction could get your DNA tossed into Big Brother's holding company.

To which Buzz's weary, aging soul responds: So what? The same argument could be made against fingerprinting, and DNA is much more accurate. Don't want your fingerprints taken? Don't get caught. Ditto for DNA in Collin County.

Our boss, who is even more lefty than Buzz, has another argument: Whether the state should collect DNA samples willy-nilly is a decision best left to the Legislature, not individual, hardboiled district attorneys. Buzz is no fan of expanded power for prosecutors either but still believes a swab is just a swab. Why not collect the best, most definitive identifying information possible? As Davis says, accurate DNA information has exonerated several innocent men in Dallas County, so let's expand its use in identifying the guilty. DNA evidence allowed McKinney police to find the killer of real estate agent Sarah Walker in 2006.

Maybe our indifference to Collin County's plan is just a sign of how far civil liberties have eroded. Habeas corpus is being battered, torture is in vogue, privacy is pretty much a dead concept and the United States is operating a gulag in Cuba. A swab in the mouth for felons? We have only so much liberal outrage left to go around. Let's save it for more important things.

 
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