DNA of convicts collected

Gilroy
– Under a new law, hundreds of people arrested in Gilroy each
year will have their genetic fingerprint added to a state DNA
database.
With the passage of Proposition 69 in November, DNA samples will
be collected from adults and juveniles convicted of any felony
offense.
By Lori Stuenkel

Gilroy – Under a new law, hundreds of people arrested in Gilroy each year will have their genetic fingerprint added to a state DNA database.

With the passage of Proposition 69 in November, DNA samples will be collected from adults and juveniles convicted of any felony offense. Samples also will be collected from adults and juveniles convicted of any sex offense or arson offense, felony or not, or convicted of attempting to commit such offenses.

The state’s existing DNA database will expand even more in four years: Adults arrested on suspicion of committing any felony act will be required to submit DNA samples to law enforcement.

Statewide, 62.1 percent of voters approved the measure in November. In Santa Clara County, the measure by a narrower margin, with 59.1 percent of the vote.

The Gilroy Police Department already has received some communications from the state Department of Justice regarding the new law, but at this time it is unclear what the process for collecting samples and accessing the DNA database will be for local officers. The law authorizes local enforcement labs to perform analyses for the state database and maintain local databases.

“My understanding is, this doesn’t affect us a ton yet, because a conviction comes so long after the arrest,” Sgt. Kurt Svardal said.

As the database expands, and particularly when arrestees are added in 2009, it will become an important tool for law enforcement, he said.

“The most common use for DNA is major felony crimes when you’ve got bodily fluids involved. … That’s why we’re going to have access, but I don’t know how that will work,” Svardal said.

Under former state law, DNA was collected from people convicted of one of 36 serious and violent felonies, including murder, manslaughter, rape, carjacking, and arson.

The new list of felony offenses will be retroactive, to include people already convicted. State or local law enforcement personnel will take DNA samples from inside the mouth using a cheek swab, following conviction or arrest.

Civil rights advocates are challenging the expansion of the database. Last month, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a class-action lawsuit saying it is unconstitutional to collect DNA before a suspect is convicted. The suit called the system “draconian” and asked for security from unconstitutional police searches and privacy of personal medical and genetic information.

Svardal said law enforcement will balance the need to investigate crimes with the right to privacy.

“There could obviously be an issue,” he said. “Between now and (2009), I’m sure the courts will provide us with more direction as time goes on, because that’s a legitimate concern, if somebody’s privacy is violated. But from the law enforcement perspective, any tool we have to help us solve a felony crime is going to be useful.

“Obviously, we don’t want to invade anyone’s privacy.”

The ACLU lawsuit says a third of people arrested for felony offenses in California are never convicted, and many more are convicted of misdemeanors instead.

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in San Francisco, also argues that felons who have served their time should not be required to submit DNA.

The state’s lab in Richmond currently processes about 50,000 DNA samples each year and the database contains more than 200,000 samples, according to the attorney general’s office. The number of samples processed annually will reach 309,000 when those of people arrested on felony charges are added.

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