Friday, 13 February 2009

DNA, and the presumption of power

I'm one-hundred percent in support of taking DNA from criminals.  Yes, I agree with all the proponents of the measure that it is in many important ways the modern equivalent of a fingerprint, and that the efficient use of DNA 'fingerprints' will be a boon to crime-fighting.

That said however, I'm vehemently opposed to the present proposal to take DNA from everyone police “intend to charge” with an imprisonable offence.

This is not a contradiction.  If you can't see the difference,then you probably qualify for membership of the present parliament, since it looks like barely anyone there understands the concept and importance of the legal presumption of innocence either.

There is a distinct difference between one who has been charged, or about to be charged, and one who has been convicted – between one who has been arrested (and who is still presumed to be innocent), and one who has been found to be a criminal -- someone from whom all reasonable doubt about their guilt has been removed.  There are more than enough real criminals about to make a database so big it will confound the organisational capacity of the NZ police force, without even needing to begin collecting DNA from those who aren't.

And let's make something clear. DNA collection is every bit the boon to crime-fighting it is said to be, but it’s more than just a “modern-day fingerprint”; it's your DNA -- something that's actually part of you. It's something that's not just your property, it is you.  Consequently, unless it's taken voluntarily, perhaps to clear you of a crime you know you didn't commit, then to take it by force when you're still presumed to be innocent is a violation of your most fundamental rights. It’s not just an unreasonable search and seizure, but something far worse.

Thank goodness you might think then that Attorney General Chris Finlayson understands at least this much when, unlike previous Attorneys General, he signalled that the present proposal violates NZ's Bill of Rights.  How disgraceful therefore that he and his colleagues are prepared to ignore that fact and proceed to vote in support of it going to its second reading.

The Nats have indicated countless times both in opposition and when previously in power that they view the presumption of innocence not as a fundamental legal principle to be upheld, but as a barrier to New Zealand The Way They Want It To Be.

That’s an uncomfortable realisation for the rest of us.


  1. I assume ACT voted for it too.

  2. I hope Rodney/ACT didn't vote for it. I will be protesting by writing a letter to him.

  3. It says who voted for the first reading in the NBR article:

    Only Maori and Greens opposed.

    It might be possible that ACT will vote for first readings of government bills as part of their little agreement...?

  4. Fingerprints are taken when the police have a suspect and they should take DNA at the same time.

    If the person charged with the offence is found innocent in a court of law or the police do not continue with their case then both fingerprints and DNA should be wiped from the public record.

    You may disagree with my think but I beleive it can allow innocent men to go free, i.e. David Doughty and men who may be innocent of one crime but guity of other be caught.

  5. Mark

    "...both fingerprints and DNA should be wiped from the public record"

    And you believe that would happen?


  6. Are people suggesting the police cannot take fingerprints until after getting a conviction?

    Though fingerprints and DNA are not completely analagous, it is not obvious to me they should be treated differently.

    I agree with Mark that both fingerprints and DNA should be used for investigation of currently outstanding crimes only, and destroyed if there are no matches. I also agree with LGM that it would be hard to have confidence in this being done.


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