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December 22, 2013

Should Oklahoma collect DNA of arrestees?

NORMAN — For Maggie Zingman, the scenario is clear, although still just a hope.

A man is arrested on criminal charges in Oklahoma and booked into jail. Officers swab the inside of his cheek, and a DNA profile extracted from the swab is submitted to a DNA database.

Later, in Tulsa, authorities order a routine check to compare DNA evidence from a 2004 rape and murder to profiles in the DNA database. And this time they get a hit: The man booked into jail becomes the prime suspect in the unsolved rape and murder of 18-year-old Brittany Phillips, Zingman’s daughter.

“I won’t stop,” said Zingman, referring to her efforts to catch her daughter’s killer and to advocate for expanding DNA collection. “The sooner we can change these laws, the sooner parents won’t have to go through what I’ve gone through.”

Zingman, 58, a psychologist, has been on a crusade for years to have Oklahoma require that DNA be collected from suspects at the time of arrest, not just conviction, for certain crimes. Now the possibility that the state Legislature will pass such a law may be greater than ever, thanks to a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that upheld collection of DNA from arrestees.

However, the proposal, which was introduced but not voted on in the last regular state legislative session, still faces two major hurdles.

One is opposition from civil-rights groups worried that expanded DNA collection will violate the privacy rights of people who haven’t been convicted of any crime. Legal challenges to DNA collection from arrestees continue, including a major case in California.

The second issue is cost. Oklahoma already faces a backlog in processing DNA from crime scenes and convicted offenders, with authorities relying heavily on federal funding to process samples. It’s unclear how collection of additional DNA samples from arrestees would be paid for.

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