Ohio is among more than 30 states that have expanded their reach to collect DNA samples from people when they are arrested, rather than convicted, of serious crimes. 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, the Cleveland Plain Dealer reports. Cuyahoga County officials 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 prosecutor’s office, 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, who have charges dropped or dismissed, or who never end up being charged after an arrest, can easily have their DNA removed — or expunged — from crime databases, said Cuyahoga County Chief Public Defender Mark Stanton and his deputy, Cullen Sweeney. 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. 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. The public defender’s office handles thousands of requests each year to help people seal criminal records.