Maine is legally entitled to draw a sample of DNA from any adult convicted of a host of violent crimes for permanent storage in a database under the Data Bank Act.

Until two years ago, teens who were convicted and incarcerated for similar violent crimes also had to submit a DNA sample for the record, but the law was quietly repealed.

It should not have been repealed and legislation to reenact it ought to be passed.

L.D. 380, now before the Legislature, is specifically written to target only teens who serve time for their crimes, crimes that, if committed by an adult, would require the adult to submit a DNA sample.

This is not about minor infractions. Crimes that prompt DNA collection include murder, sexual abuse of a minor, unlawful sexual contact, visual sexual aggression against a child and solicitation of a child by a computer to commit a prohibited act.

Gathering genetic codes in a database gives law enforcement a scientifically proven tool to pursue and arrest suspects. It also helps prosecutors convict violent offenders, providing some measure of justice for victims of sexual assault and other grievous crimes.

The Maine Civil Liberties Union has opposed the legislation, saying that society has a longstanding tradition of treating teens and adults differently. We forgive the former, punish the latter.

A teen is “adjudicated.” An adult, “convicted.” A teen’s record is wiped clean at 18 years; an adult carries the conviction forever.

That, according to the MCLU, is because teens are due the opportunity to reform and make something of themselves out from under the shadow of a conviction.

Teens certainly do make mistakes and deserve a fresh start as they reach adulthood. But sexual assault, murder, sexual abuse and unlawful sexual contact are very adult crimes. The teens who are “adjudicated” to have committed them have proven to society that they are a danger to others and have earned themselves a permanent DNA listing that is available only for investigative purposes.

If, some time in the future, DNA turns up at another sex crime scene police have a starting point for investigation. It could mean an early arrest in a crime, which could protect future victims of sex crimes.

The MCLU is also concerned, and it may have a point here, that any DNA evidence gathered from a teen would carry a genetic signature that could identify a close relative. There could be controls written into the legislation to guard against this possibility, remote as it might be.

In the world of crime, sex offenders are more likely to repeat their offense than most other criminals and there is reason to be concerned that teens convicted of sex crimes will re-offend in adulthood. Any claim a defendant – teen or otherwise – may have to withhold DNA to protect civil liberties must be tempered by the greater need of society to protect citizens.

DNA is being used as a defense mechanism by defendants to reverse convictions. Freeing innocents convicted of crimes is a good use of science. So is developing a database of proven offenders, young as they may be.



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