innocence blog

A Web log for the Innocence Institute of Point Park University

Friday, February 09, 2007

In Virginia: DNA databank bill clears hurdle

This article appeared in the Charlottesville, Virginia Daily Progress on January 25, 2007:

DNA databank bill clears hurdle
Many felons' samples still not on file

By Bob Gibson

RICHMOND - A huge hole of thousands of missing samples in Virginia’s first-in-the-nation state DNA databank would largely be filled under legislation that passed its first hurdle Wednesday.

Charlottesville Police Capt. J.E. “Chip” Harding told a House of Delegates committee that the DNA samples from as many as 20 percent of the felons who should have their DNA on file with the state are missing.

Harding testified in favor of a bill sponsored by Del. Rob Bell, R-Albemarle County, that would seek to recover the missing samples from at least 8,000 felons whose blood, saliva or tissue samples either were not taken as required or were lost or not properly listed in the databank.

Harding said that in the course of investigating Charlottesville’s 10-year-old unsolved sexual assaults by a serial rapist, he and state officials discovered many samples were missing from felons who should have provided them.

“Nobody did this on purpose,” Bell said of the state’s failure to obtain and properly store DNA samples in the state’s databank. “What happened was everyone thought someone else was doing it [and] people got missed.”

State authorities are reviewing records of about 60,000 felons currently on probation, parole or court supervision to see how many samples are missing. Initial findings show that about 20 percent of the felons do not have a sample on file, said Clyde Cristman, assistant secretary of public safety.

Cristman said perhaps a fourth of those initially found missing are in the databank but their samples had been mislabeled due to data entry errors. Some dates of birth and some Social Security numbers of those who gave samples were entered incorrectly, he said.

Bell’s House Bill 3034 would set up a system for retrieving all the missing DNA samples required of felons for the past 17 years, although he said some may never be collected if they are no longer on probation and have left the state or country.

After hearing how this is a statewide problem, a subcommittee of the House Courts of Justice Committee unanimously endorsed Bell’s bill.

Harding said he interviewed people who have given three DNA samples while in the correctional system and still are not listed in the databank. “A lot of people who are on probation or parole said that ‘no one ever asked me for a thing,’” he said.

The DNA databank has proven tremendously successful in solving crimes by matching the DNA of felons to the DNA from unsolved cases.

The city police had their first “cold hit” solve a rape case from October of 1999.

“In a three-and-a-half-year period we had 55 [cold hits], which included three serial rapists,” Harding said. “It’s a wonderful tool,” when the DNA samples are properly on file for all felons convicted since 1990, he said.

“The system needs to be fixed,” Harding said. “There are people who are going to be victimized tonight because we have not taken samples from convicted felons.”

“This is a much more extensive problem than we initially thought,” Bell said of the missing DNA samples.


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