innocence blog

A Web log for the Innocence Institute of Point Park University

Friday, February 02, 2007

Democrats propose DNA tests

This article appeared in Missouri's Belleville News Democrat on January 22, 2007:

Democrats propose DNA tests after all felony arrests

Chris Blank
Associated Press

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. - House Democrats on Monday proposed expanding the state's DNA database to include people arrested but not yet convicted of felonies and sex crimes.

Rep. John Burnett said testing before convictions would help law enforcement close cases by giving them more to work with sooner. Samples taken from suspects who are not eventually convicted would be removed from the database.

Burnett, D-Kansas City, said any civil liberty concerns are outweighed by the possible good that could come from the additional testing and because DNA evidence can prove innocence as well as guilt.

Burnett said DNA testing is just a scientific way of determining identity, similar to taking finger prints or mug shots.

"You do not have a constitutional right to protect your DNA, to protect your blood, to protect your body fluids," he said.

Missouri has taken DNA samples from those convicted of felonies and sex crimes since 2003. Last year lawmakers approved extending the program until 2013, adding a $60 court fee to drug offenders to pay for the testing on top of the already $30 fee for felons and $15 fee for those convicted of misdemeanors.

A spokesman for the Missouri State Highway Patrol said including felony and sex crime arrests to the DNA testing list would add at least 40,000 tests to the more than 75,000 samples taken last year. A testing kit costs between $30 and $35.

But the bigger problem, Highway Patrol Capt. Tim Hull said, would be keeping track of who already has given a DNA sample so there's no duplication.

Burnett said there has been no cost estimate for the additional testing, but said he doubted it would be unworkable.

"There's always money for something that's a priority," he said.

The proposal came as one of several Democratic crime measures, which included bills to help local police use GPS satellite technology to avoid high-speed chases and to expand the death penalty.

The GPS tracking device would be attached to a fleeing car using a special shooting device, which would allow police to follow the suspect at a safer distance and speed. The Democratic proposal calls for having the state pick up half the cost.

Despite a federal court ruling that has put the state death penalty on ice, Rep. Paul LeVota called for allowing juries to give the death penalty if the victim is a child - even if prosecutors cannot prove there was premeditation.

LeVota, D-Independence, said the "Precious Doe" case - a girl whose body was found in 2001 in Kansas City but not identified until 2005 - illustrated the need for the bill. Police later identified the girl as 3-year-old Erica Green and arrested her stepfather, Harrell Johnson, 25, of Muskogee, Okla., for the murder.

Johnson was initially charged with second-degree murder because prosecutors weren't sure they could prove he had planned the killing. The charges have since been bumped up and prosecutors are seeking the death penalty.

LeVota said eliminating the premeditation requirement for child slayings would eliminate any ambiguity.

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