A bill that would require the collection of DNA from people arrested on felony charges in Nevada encountered tough questions Thursday from lawmakers concerned that samples from innocent people would not be destroyed properly or promptly.
Members of the Assembly Judiciary Committee also were concerned Senate Bill 243 — also known as Brianna’s Law — could be an invasion of privacy without enough cause to warrant a DNA sampling. The Senate has unanimously approved the bill.
The bill was presented by Sen. Debbie Smith, D-Sparks, who said the powerful potential impact of the bill causes her to be nervous before each hearing. She backed a similar bill in 2011 which failed.
“It is today’s technology to solve crime,” Smith said of arrestee DNA collection. “If we — through our action — can save one life, or exonerate one wrongfully convicted person, my nerves will be worth it.”
The bill would mandate a cheek-swab whenever a person is booked for a felony arrest. If probable cause is established for the arrest, then that DNA would be cross-referenced with DNA from other crime scenes to see if the arrestee had been involved. If a match is found, police would then open a new investigation into that crime with the match as a person of interest.
If probable cause is not established, the DNA would be destroyed. Also, if the charges are dismissed or resolved, or if no additional felony charges are filed within five years, a person could request their DNA be removed from the system.
“I believe if we don’t adopt this law — this century’s fingerprint — we will see a repeat of horrible crimes that could have been prevented,” said Bridgette Zunino-Denison, the mother of the bill’s namesake.
The bill is named after Brianna Denison who was abducted and murdered in Reno by James Biela in 2008. Backers argue Denison might still be alive if the law was in place because Biela had a prior felony arrest and had raped two women just months before his assault on Denison. He is currently on death row.
Jayann Sepich, the mother of Katie Sepich who was murdered in New Mexico in 2003, testified before lawmakers Thursday about the importance of collecting DNA from all felony arrestees, not just violent offenders — one of the opponents’ primary proposals.
Katie Sepich is the namesake of the federal arrestee DNA law signed into law by President Barack Obama last year.
“You’re going to miss so many violent offenders by only taking violent arrests,” Sepich told The Associated Press after the meeting, adding that in the first year New Mexico added non-violent felony arrests to its DNA collection law, five of the six homicides solved by DNA evidence came from non-violent felony arrests.
“We would have missed five of six murderers if we didn’t take it from non-violent arrests,” Sepich said. “They would have slipped through.”
The second primary desire from opponents — also the dominant concern from committee members, according to Chairman Jason Frierson, D-Las Vegas — was having DNA automatically erased from the database if the appropriate conditions are met.
“It’s a cost-benefit analysis for each member of the committee,” said Frierson who voted for the bill in 2011. “Does the benefit of having this wide net outweigh the cost of a violation some people consider to be privacy?”
The committee took no action on SB243 Thursday.