Improving Forensic DNA Programs
ISSUE: Many States still do not provide their residents with adequate protection from repeat, violent offenders because of limited DNA database laws. We must ensure that law enforcement has every tool reasonably available to stop these predators in their tracks. It is inexcusable that investigators may be prohibited from discerning the true identity of persons lawfully taken into custody because of out-dated laws that do not allow a DNA sample to be collected at the point of arrest for serious crimes – at the same time as fingerprints, booking photos, and other personally identifying information. Who you are and what you have done matters to law enforcement. It matters to victims who seek justice, and it matters to the rest of society who expect the government to pass reasonable laws that protect their safety and well-being.
Failure to pass laws to require DNA upon arrest for felony crimes results in cold cases remaining unsolved – leaving the perpetrator on the street while the victim awaits justice – as well as in delaying exonerations for persons wrongfully accused of crimes. All States should act with haste to join this nationwide movement to close the loopholes in state DNA database laws that allow criminals to hide in plain sight.
- The national DNA database system is named the Combined DNA Index System (CODIS), and was created in the early 1990's by the FBI. Every State participates in CODIS.
- CODIS has aided the investigation of more than 120,000 cases (www.fbi.gov/hq/lab/codis/clickmap.htm).
- 49 States require DNA from all convicted felons. Idaho, Nebraska and New Hampshire require DNA only from felons convicted of violent crime and some burglaries. (www.DNAResource.com)
- 24 States and Congress have passed laws to require DNA upon arrest for certain felony convictions. (www.DNASaves.org)
Solves and Prevents Crime
- Case studies of 19 offenders in just six States have identified 168 crimes that could have been prevented by collecting DNA upon felony arrest. By missing this opportunity to compare the DNA of arrestees to unsolved crimes, law enforcement unwittingly released violent criminals back into the community – often to murder and rape more citizens. (www.DNASaves.org)
- Virginia has received over 5,000 hits on their database, with nearly 500 of these matches directly attributable to arrestees (www.dfs.virginia.gov/statistics/index.cfm)
- Since implementation of Proposition 69 to require DNA for felony arrests, California is now making approximately 10 cold hits per day on its database
- New Mexico has made more than 160 matches to arrestees since implementing its law in 2007.
- Since 1974, more than 90 percent of all state prisoners have been repeat offenders. 70% of America's crime is committed by 6% of its criminals. Bright Lines, Dark Deeds: Counting Convictions Under the Armed Career Criminal Act by James E Hooper; Michigan Law Review, Vol. 89, 1991
Frees the Innocent
- More than 200 wrongfully convicted individuals have been exonerated through post conviction DNA tests – many were not fully exonerated until after a DNA match was made on the database to another offender (www.innocenceproject.org)
- One of the first matches in New Mexico from "Katie's Law" for arrestee testing exonerated a man awaiting trial for the murder and rape of a child.
- By identifying the true perpetrator quickly, DNA can help law enforcement focus investigations on the right suspect, rather than chasing down false leads.
- Prosecutors can use DNA matches to consolidate cases and pursue the most egregious charges.
- Courts realize savings from guilty pleas entered after suspects are confronted with DNA evidence.
Not a privacy intrusion
- Two federal courts and the Virginia State Supreme Court have ruled that arrestee DNA database laws do not violate the 4th amendment. (http://www.denverda.org/DNA/DNA_Arrestee_Database_Cases.htm)
- Forensic DNA analysis does NOT include data relating to genetic health information.
- No identifying information is included on CODIS, not even a name, and the CODIS database can only be accessed by a select number of personnel at crime laboratories. It is not directly open to general law enforcement.
- DNA profiles are not included in a person's criminal history record. The CODIS database is secure and separate.
- Several layers of protection exist to ensure the privacy of the DNA profiles, including strict federal laws bringing fines of $250,000 for misuse.
- Federal law requires that there must be a process for expungement of DNA samples collected from persons who are not subsequently convicted of a crime. This is more than what is offered in most states for fingerprints and other criminal history records.
RECOMMENDATION: Every State Legislature must pass laws to require DNA from any person arrested for a felony offense, at the same time as fingerprints. Public safety demands it.