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Ask the Times: DNA and sunken houseboats 

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ASK THE TIMES

Q. On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that police may take DNA samples from persons arrested for serious crimes without having to get a court order, likening the DNA samples to fingerprints. May police personnel in Arkansas take DNA samples from persons arrested for serious crimes without a court order?

A. Arkansas is one of 28 states that collects DNA samples for use in a forensic identification database, according to Attorney General Dustin McDaniel. DNA is collected under the so-called "Juli's Law," enacted in 2009 and amended in 2011, which requires the police to take DNA samples at the time of detention from persons arrested for capital murder, murder in the first degree, kidnapping, rape or sexual assault in the first or second degree. The law was named for Juli Busken, a 21-year-old Benton native who was killed in 1996 and whose killer was apprehended as a result of a DNA match. The AG's office joined every state AG in an amicus brief filed in support of the Supreme Court case decided Monday, Maryland v. King.

Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, who was among the minority in the 5-4 vote, gave a scathing dissent from the bench, saying he fears police will begin to take DNA swabs for all arrests. "Make no mistake about it: As an entirely predictable consequence of today's decision," he told the majority, "your DNA can be taken and entered into a national DNA database if you are ever arrested, rightly or wrongly, and for whatever reason."

Bill Sadler, a spokesman for the State Police, said that agency is reviewing its policy, which now requires state troopers to get consent or a court order before taking a DNA sample, to see if it complies with state and federal law.

Asked about LRPD policy on DNA swabs, Sgt. Cassandra Davis emailed the Times that "No one from the department is prepared to speak on this issue at this time."

Q. Please tell me why this abandoned piece of junk — two pieces actually — from a storm gets to stay in the Little Maumelle/Arkansas River from a storm years ago? #too long # personal responsibility #eyesore.

A. The two half-sunken houseboats in the Little Maumelle channel that you can see from the I-430 bridge — and, indeed, which are visible on Google Earth — get to stay there because the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has not been able to persuade the boat owners to move them. The Corps is hoping a civil prosecution might budge the boats.

The houseboats, and other debris, washed out of their slips at the privately-owned Pinnacle Valley Marina on the Little Maumelle during the May 1, 2011, flood. The Corps of Engineers is not authorized to remove boats from the Arkansas River unless they are in the river's navigation channel, and in fact did have to remove debris deposited just upstream of the Murray Lock and Dam after that flood.

The marina cleaned up the flood debris around its docks, but requires boat owners to have insurance to take care of sunken boats.

The Corps, which got no response to letters to the boat owners instructing them to salvage the boats by a deadline last year, has referred its information to the federal Department of Justice.

Federal law allows the Corps to withhold the names of the boat owners. If the DOJ take the boat owners to court, their names will be made public then. Should the boats get flushed into the navigation system, the Corps can haul them out.

Do you have a burning question for the Arkansas Times? Drop a line to Times editor Lindsey Millar at lindseymillar@arktimes.com.

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