Police urged to more quickly return biological evidence

SOUTHFIELD (AP) - A former prosecutor is among those who want Michigan State Police to quickly return biological evidence collected from crime suspects after acquittal.

The agency can store samples containing DNA such as blood for months after a case is resolved, unless a court intervenes, The Detroit News reported. But Neil Rockind, a former assistant Oakland County prosecutor, said police shouldn't keep biological property.

"We're starting to see a scaling back of individual rights because the police have such great power and are overreaching," said Rockind, who runs a Southfield-based firm. "The state of science today is nothing compared to what it will be in two or five years."

State police spokeswoman Tiffany Brown said biological samples are destroyed two years after they're collected, but can be kept longer if, for example, prosecutors' offices request it. Brown said they destroy blood samples sooner if ordered by a court.

"We retain blood samples for two years because of the potential for retesting and/or additional testing, if ordered by the courts," Brown said. "The two-year time period provides sufficient time for a case to make it through adjudication."

The cost of storing the samples is minimal, the agency said.

Rockind was involved in a legal effort to have authorities return the blood sample of a client who was acquitted of a drunken driving charge. He said state police told him his client's blood samples belonged to the police agency that drew the blood.

An Oakland County judge disagreed and state police released the sample.

"The worry is that they have someone's DNA and health profile," Rockind said. "What if the lab mixes up the blood sample? I don't like the state having that much of a person's biological property. There is no reason to keep it if the person is acquitted."

Body fluid samples are not returned to individuals without a court order because that could present a bio-hazard and jeopardize public safety, Michigan State University forensics specialist David Foran said.

Shelli Weisberg, legislative director for the Michigan American Civil Liberties Union, said her organization has been working on the issue of "biological property." The ACLU was behind efforts to get a provision into law to make sure a person's DNA is destroyed after the individual is cleared of a crime.

"DNA tells a person's life story," Weisberg said.

Published: Wed, Sep 23, 2015