Police ask lawmakers to create all-felons DNA database | NevadaAppeal.com

Police ask lawmakers to create all-felons DNA database

JOE MULLIN
Associated Press Writer

Nevada should join 43 other states that include all felons in a national DNA database, lawmakers were told Thursday.

Directors of crime labs in Reno and Las Vegas joined other law enforcement representatives to urge the Senate Judiciary Committee to support AB92, which was unanimously passed by the Assembly last week.

Violent criminals often have previous convictions for nonviolent crimes, said Don Means, captain of the Forensic Division of the Washoe County sheriff’s department. When they can collect DNA samples from a crime scene, police can sometimes solve cold cases by getting a DNA “hit” from the national DNA offender database, known as CODIS.

Nevada police have solved 141 offenders using the database, including 19 homicides, said Means.

In nearly half of those cases, the offenders were in the database because another state put them in after a nonviolent offense.

“Across the country, nonviolent offenders are being identified by cold hits in CODIS on a regular basis,” said Linda Krueger, director of the Las Vegas Metro forensics lab. “Criminal activity knows no boundaries.”

Currently, Nevada law only allows the collection of DNA samples from those convicted of serious and violent felonies. Nevada is one of only six states that doesn’t collect DNA samples from all felons.

While most states only take DNA data from those convicted of crimes, several states collect DNA samples from suspects when they are arrested. California is scheduled to start taking DNA samples from anyone arrested on a felony charge in 2009.

The database does not include any victim information, or any personal information about the offenders other than their DNA markers. Maintaining the all-felony database would cost the state $1.2 million next year, rising to $1.8 million in fiscal year 2010-11.

Joseph Turco, a lobbyist for the ACLU of Nevada, opposed the bill, saying that the massive collection of DNA creates possibilities for abuse. Turco proposed amendments to control how the data is shared, purge the DNA samples of people later found to be innocent, and allow those convicted of crimes to petition for access to the data.

Some lawmakers also expressed reservations about the bill. Sen. Terry Care, D-Las Vegas, pointed out that offenders convicted of low-level felonies such as writing bad checks and certain graffiti offenses would be included in the database.

“I’m having a problem … saying a person who’s on drugs is going to become a violent criminal,” said Sen. Steven Horsford, D-North Las Vegas.