The state House gave preliminary approval to a bill that would require DNA samples to be collected from anyone arrested and charged with a violent felony.
Upon final approval in the House, the bill would head to the Senate for a vote. The House vote Tuesday was 92-23.
Currently, DNA is collected only from those convicted of a felony. Samples would include only information that could identify a person and not information such as health predispositions or family traits.
The samples would be sent to a searchable FBI database. They would be collected from those arrested in violent crimes or charged with offenses such as stalking.
The bill is supported by Attorney General Roy Cooper, whose office estimates the collection of DNA at arrest would allow law enforcement agencies to solve 100 previously unsolved cases in the first year.
The idea is to catch the guilty faster and get them off the streets, preventing crimes altogether, said Rep. Wil Neumann, a Gaston County Republican who is co-sponsoring the bill. DNA can rule out innocent suspects as well, he said.
Opponents said they feared the bill was an encroachment on privacy rights for people who have only been accused of a crime. "Under this bill, we would be taking DNA from arrestees - that is to say from the innocent," said Rep. Paul Luebke, a Durham Democrat.
If a person is acquitted or the charges are dropped, the state would have to remove the DNA sample from the database.
Supporters of the bill said the DNA samples should be thought of as fingerprints.
Rep. Rick Glazier, a Fayetteville Democrat, said he had some reservations about collecting DNA before a conviction. Glazier, a lawyer, represented Lesley Jean, a former Marine who was falsely convicted of a 1982 rape. DNA eventually proved he was innocent.
"I've come to the conclusion that the benefits here are more substantial," Glazier said.