Senate committee approves Brianna’s Law

Cathleen Allison / Associated Press

Cathleen Allison / Associated Press

A bill that proposes collecting DNA samples for suspects arrested on felony charges and using that data to potentially solve past crimes while preventing future ones cleared its first major hurdle Thursday.

The Nevada Senate Judiciary Committee unanimously approved Senate Bill 243, otherwise known as “Brianna’s Law.”

Despite fees associated with the bill, it will not need passage from money committees and instead awaits a full vote of the Senate.

It is named after Brianna Denison who was murdered in Reno in early 2008. Because of a prior felony arrest by her assailant, and his raping two other women months before attacking Denison, supporters of the bill believe it could have saved her life had it been in place before. A similar measure failed in 2011.

“We’ve come a long way,” said Sen. Debbie Smith, D-Sparks and the bill’s primary sponsor. “This is one that we will very carefully monitor; I will stay very involved with how this progresses.”

Supporters of the bill, including Denison’s mother, Bridgette Zunino-Denison, were all smiles in the hallway following the committee hearing. Smith said she believes the bill already has the votes to pass the Senate floor.

The DNA collected from felony arrests is used to cross-reference DNA evidence from other unsolved crimes.

If the charges are dismissed or resolved, or if no felony charges are filed within five years, a person can request their DNA be destroyed and profile removed from the system.

“We’re not talking about the government keeping long-term databases of people who are not actually convicted of crimes,” said Sen. Mark Hutchison, R-Las Vegas. Several members of the committee called this method the “fingerprints of the 21st century.”

An amendment from the Clark County Public Defender’s Office that proposed having DNA automatically removed rather than requiring a petition, and only collected for violent felonies, did not garner much support from the committee or Smith.

The committee did adopt an amendment from Sen. Aaron Ford, D-Las Vegas, creating a panel to monitor the usage of arrestee DNA and possible disproportionate impacts on minorities. The committee would be able to make recommendations to tweak the law next session, if necessary, Ford said.

He added that he plans to introduce a bill next session that would lay the groundwork for DNA to be used for exoneration purposes.

“If we’re going to use this to convict people, then we’re going to use it to exonerate as well,” Ford told The Associated Press after the meeting.


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