Jail cells

Jail cells stand empty in a general population area of the Porter County Jail.

John Luke, The Times, file

INDIANAPOLIS — Starting today, individuals arrested for a felony crime in Indiana will have a DNA sample taken during the booking process, in addition to the traditional mugshot photograph, fingerprint record and the collecting of other personal data.

A law signed in April by Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb made Indiana the 31st state in the country to require alleged felons provide a cheek swab DNA sample for the state's Combined DNA Index System (CODIS), which generally is available to law enforcement throughout the country.

Previously, Indiana only entered a DNA sample into CODIS after a person was convicted of a felony.

Supporters of the law say being able to compare the DNA record of a person arrested for a serious crime with DNA evidence from unsolved crimes will help law enforcement and prosecutors identify criminal perpetrators and win convictions in court.

"Since serious criminals often go on to commit numerous additional crimes before they are caught and convicted, the collection of DNA upon felony arrest will save lives," said state Sen. Erin Houchin, R-Salem, a sponsor of Senate Enrolled Act 322.

State Sen. Joe Zakas, R-Granger, another sponsor of the law, said DNA sampling of felony arrestees also could help exonerate the innocent.

"This bill should improve our criminal justice system in a substantial way," Zakas said. "I look forward to seeing the success this law will have."

Opponents of the measure, including state Sen. Mike Young, R-Indianapolis, suggested it runs afoul of 4th Amendment protections against illegal police searches because an arrestee's DNA record will be used for investigatory purposes, not just identification.

"This is no different than the government coming in your house looking for evidence to see if there's anything laying around that they might be able to put together to find out you committed another crime. There is no difference," Young said.

"Why can't we just do it the right way and get a warrant?" he asked.

The statute provides a process to remove a DNA sample from the database upon request of a person arrested for a felony who either is not convicted, convicted of a misdemeanor instead of a felony, the felony charges are dismissed or if the person never is charged.

It also seeks to prevent mass felony arrests on trumped up charges in an effort to create a statewide DNA database by prohibiting DNA samples from being shipped from county jails to state police laboratories unless a judge agrees there was probable cause for arrest.

At the same time, Indiana law states that an arrest or conviction based on a database match is not invalidated even if a court determines the DNA sample was obtained or entered in the Indiana DNA database by mistake.

The law requiring DNA sampling upon felony arrest was approved 36-13 by the Senate and 84-13 in the House. Both chambers are Republican-controlled.

State Sen. Eddie Melton, D-Merrillville, and state Sen. Lonnie Randolph, D-East Chicago, were the only Northwest Indiana lawmakers to vote against the measure.

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Dan is Statehouse Bureau Chief for The Times. Since 2009, he's reported on Indiana government and politics — and how both impact the Region — from the state capital in Indianapolis. He originally is from Orland Park, Ill.