There surely are people more passionately committed to the ever-besieged principles of civil liberties, but I don’t think I know any of them.
It’s hard to say which I loathe more -- the endless assaults on those principles, or the clueless apologists for the assaulters. I’m talking about the people who can always be relied on to sneer at fundamental rights when that pesky Constitution thing gets in the way of some fast-track version of what they think of as justice. And I always get amused/annoyed every time the Supreme Court’s “conservative” wing hands down another decision enhancing government powers at the expense of the individual.
Unlike Michael Douglas in “The American President,” I can’t say I’m a card-carrying member of the ACLU (does the ACLU actually have a “card”?), but it’s an organization I admire even though I deplore some of the people and organizations whose rights it defends. I also like the ACLU -- and I freely admit this -- because it so infuriates so many of the people who infuriate me.
I have despised the so-called War on Drugs from the outset. It’s a useless black hole into which we’ve poured billions, with precious little to show for it. We’re still refusing to learn the lesson we refused to learn almost a century ago, when we blamed booze for the criminal empire a stupid law against booze created.
Those are more than good enough reasons for despising the War on Drugs, but for me not the main one. That would be the breathtakingly cavalier way the Bill of Rights was tossed by the roadside like so much litter from a car window. I remain convinced that the constitutional recklessness of the drug obsession of the ‘80s and ‘90s set the stage for the worst abuses of the Patriot Act, and nothing has yet convinced me otherwise.
I share the above as preface to this: I have looked at the DNA testing legislation of Sen. Josh McKoon, R-Columbus, as closely as my non-legal mind can process it, and I have to say it doesn’t bother this civil libertarian’s consciousness or conscience even a little bit.
McKoon offered his own detailed rationale for it in these pages a week ago. But the short version is that people arrested on felony charges in Georgia would have their DNA collected via the non-invasive procedure of an oral swab, provided a judge or magistrate determines probable cause. About half the states have similar laws already, as does the federal government. Somebody who has provided a DNA sample and is later acquitted could have that sample removed from the database.
The bill has already been passed by the Senate, but is unlikely to get through the House this year. That leaves plenty of time for debating and fine-tuning. If somebody can make a compelling case for how DNA testing differs in anything other than scientific precision from fingerprinting -- which, by the way, does not require a judge’s order -- I might be convinced I’m wrong.
Barring that, it looks like a common-sense tool for ensuring more convictions of real criminals, which is probably what appeals to most of the bill’s supporters. It appeals to me, too.
What appeals to me even more would be reading fewer of these atrociously commonplace stories of guys sprung by DNA evidence after 10, 15, 20 years of correctional hell for crimes they didn’t commit. If the frequency of such accounts -- and the fact that only outfits like the Innocence Project seem to give a damn -- doesn’t make us sick, we’re collectively losing our capacity for shame.
If you want to search my home, my car or my person, get a warrant. If you arrest me for a felony I didn’t commit, get a swab. Wrongful imprisonment is a pretty serious civil liberties violation.