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DNA collected at arrest often not removed from crime databases for those not convicted

CLEVELAND, Ohio — Ohio is among more than 30 states in recent years that have expanded their reach to collect DNA samples from people when they are arrested, rather than convicted, of serious crimes.

But for those who are never convicted, removing a DNA profile from state and federal databases used to solve crimes, is rare and, some say, burdensome.
Cuyahoga County officials recently have made a push to make sure all DNA samples are collected in all arrests for a felony offense, which has been required by Ohio law since 2011.

The Plain Dealer reported in June that thousands of DNA samples — often on cheek swabs — were going uncollected here, a problem identified by the prosecutor’s office as it reinvestigated thousands of old rape cases. The office since has worked with the Common Pleas court, the Sheriff’s office and others to close gaps that led to the oversights.

The prosecutor’s office, along with researchers from Case Western Reserve University’s Begun Center, is formulating a plan to collect some of the missing or “owed” samples from people with active court cases or on parole or probation.

However, there is a flip side to the issue.

It is just as important to make sure that people who are found not guilty, have charges dropped or dismissed, or who never end up being charged after an arrest, can easily have their DNA removed — or expunged — from the crime databases, said Cuyahoga County Chief Public Defender Mark Stanton and Deputy Chief Public Defender Cullen Sweeney in a recent interview with The Plain Dealer.

The issue disproportionately affects low-income people of color who are more often stopped, searched and arrested, and already are unfairly overrepresented in government DNA databases , Stanton and Sweeney said.

Unfortunately, the process is not simple in Ohio, and the burden is placed on a person who was wrongfully accused to get a court order to remove DNA from the databases, often referred to as CODIS, said Sweeney.

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