DNA Database Stirs Debate

From helping to convict the guilty to winning freedom for the innocent, DNA testing has been a powerful tool for the nationÂ's legal system, reports CBS This Morning Senior Correspondent Hattie Kauffman.

But should there be a national databank that would include DNA samples from virtually everyone charged with a crime? Later this month, a commission appointed by Attorney General Janet Reno will make its recommendation on the issue.

Virginia has been one of the first states to use a DNA databank. Paul Ferrera, the head of the stateÂ's Bureau of Forensic Science, says Â"it has been tremendously successful. We passed the first DNA databank in 1989, and just in the last six months, we have solved 30 rapes and murders and other crimes without any suspects.Â"

How does the DNA databank work? Ferrara says that when a violent crime is committed, the perpetrator leaves a minute amount of some biological fluid or tissue at the crime scene.

Â"When the police have no suspects, no leads and the victims didnÂ't see their attacker,Â" he says, Â"itÂ's possible for us to take the most minute amount of that physiological fluid, develop a DNA profile from it and search a databank."

Investigators can then "get an arrest warrant, a search warrant, a blood sample from that suspect. Then we do a direct comparison to the crime scene material,Â" says Ferrara.

ThatÂ's what happened in the case of rape survivor Kellie Greene. The person who attacked her was caught and is now behind bars after being tracked down through FloridaÂ's DNA databank.

Â"It was the first hit for the city of Orlando on the database,Â" says Greene. Â"I was attacked in January of Â'94. I didnÂ't have the hit until Â'97. So for years, I didnÂ't know who attacked me."

But despite its apparent effectiveness in solving crimes, some oppose DNA databanks as being too invasive.

Â"Proposals have been made to collect samples from all persons arrested, here in New York City, whether they are convicted or not," said Barry Steinhardt, associate director of the American Civil Liberties Union. "We know a lot of people who are arrested will never be convicted. Do we want to be taking DNA samples from every jaywalker? What are we going to do with this information? ItÂ's not like taking a fingerprint. DNA harbors our innermost secrets.Â"

Could this genetic information become public? Ferrara says, Â"It canÂ't in these particular forensic DNA databanks, because state laws preclude the use of the DNA for any other purpose than identification.Â"

But, he concedes, Â"as the human genome project finishes its work and this is all mapped out, there is going to be the potential for researchers and scientists to determine your total genetic makeup."

Steinhardt says the problem is that biological samples can be held for years, and used for later analysis.

Â"There are people who believe there is a gay gene. Women know thereÂ's breast cancer gene," Steinhardt said. "We donÂ't want this information turned over to insurance companies, employers or misused by law enforcement.Â"