Washington state Representative Jeannie Darneille, D-Tacoma, and Senator Karen Fraser, D-Thurston County, have introduced legislation to decrease violent crime against vulnerable women and children, and stop offenders earlier in their criminal progression. The bill provides for the collection of DNA to help solve “cold cases” and will also exonerate those who have not committed any crime.
People arrested for violent offenses or sex crimes would have their DNA collected so that serial offenders are caught sooner and cases are solved more accurately, if the legislation proposed this week is approved. The bill also includes important personal-privacy safeguards.
“Studies in other jurisdictions indicate that collection of DNA from arrestees may contribute to the solution of cold cases, save lives by identifying recidivist offenders, reduce rates of criminality and increase the rate of successful prosecutions,” Darneille said. “This bill is designed to help solve past crimes, lower the total costs of criminal investigations through better accuracy and protect the privacy of the innocent.”
Under the bill, beginning in 2013 law enforcement must start collecting DNA samples from people arrested for violent offenses or sex crimes. The specified markers from the DNA would be analyzed and added to the state database, where they can be cross-referenced for matches in Washington and other states. If a match with DNA evidence from a crime scene is found, additional analysis could be ordered by a court.
“Every state including ours has successfully maintained DNA databases for felony convictions as a means of solving violent crimes. About half the states maintain DNA samples of felony arrestees in addition to felony convictions. They’ve shown how privacy concerns can be balanced with significant public safety benefits, all while being incredibly cost-effective. At a time when our criminal justice system is already overstretched and underfunded, it’s time Washington followed suit,” Fraser said.
To safeguard personal privacy, DNA samples are securely stored and amply protected, as all DNA labs participating in the national DNA database system are required to undergo annual audits and comply with stringent federal standards. Additionally, personally identifying information is kept separate, and access to the database is restricted to qualified personnel strictly regulated by federal and state guidelines and penalties. People can request their DNA sample be expunged from the system if they are not charged, found not guilty or acquitted of a crime for which they have been arrested, or if the case is dismissed or reversed.