Nevada Assembly to take up DNA data collection

An Assembly panel has approved a bill to collect DNA samples from some convicted felons -- but hasn't voted yet on a measure improving access to DNA testing for Nevada's death row inmates.

AB55 calls for DNA sampling from certain felons who should have had the sampling in the first place, are paroled from prison and then violate a requirement to tell authorities where they're living.

The bill sent Wednesday to the Assembly floor by the Judiciary Committee also would cover offenders convicted before DNA profiling was common practice.

AB55 also would let the state get a genetic sample from parolees who move to Nevada after serving time for a crime in another state that would have required a DNA sample if committed here.

The measure, however, only requires the sampling from people who fail to register with local police -- who must catch the people first. Most people who fail to register are only caught after committing another crime.

Another bill dealing with DNA evidence has not yet been scheduled for a hearing. AB16 would give inmates on Nevada's death row a process for petitioning courts for DNA testing of evidence.

The proposal came out of a legislative interim study on the death penalty and DNA testing, chaired by Assemblywoman Sheila Leslie, D-Reno.

Leslie said the bill isn't perfect and needs some work, but the intent is to ensure death-row inmates have a chance to access any DNA evidence that might exist and was not tested in their case.

Leslie also said part of the plan was to mandate that any DNA evidence from crimes be preserved for future analysis.

"Nobody wants an innocent person on death row. Nobody," Leslie said. "And if DNA can be used to determine innocence and guilt, we want to make sure that it is available."

Michael Pescetta, an assistant federal public defender specializing in death penalty cases, says while there are instances this law prove useful, the number is probably quite small.

He also said DNA evidence, at this point in its development, is more an issue taken up during the investigation and trial phases.

"It's all tactical," Pescetta said. "The district attorney is going to fight whenever they want to. But ultimately I think that because of all the DNA exonerations, most courts are going to figure they better err on the side of caution (and allow testing)."

Assembly Judiciary Chairman Bernie Anderson, D-Sparks, said he has not scheduled to hearing on the bill because proponents say they are not yet prepared to present it to the committee.


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