Lawmakers propose expanded DNA collection, critics speak out

Some lawmakers want DNA samples collected from people who commit certain crimes, but the new offenses they want to add to the list are only misdemeanors.

(WVEC) -- There is disagreement about several bills just introduced in the Virginia General Assembly.

Some lawmakers want DNA samples collected from people who commit certain crimes, but the new offenses they want to add to the list are only misdemeanors. That's causing some critics to speak out.

Police can collect your DNA to add to the state D-N-A databank, but right now, most of the crimes requiring the collection are violent felonies or more serious charges.

If these bills become law, that mandatory collection would expand to include nine new misdemeanors.

There is emotional motivation for crafting these proposals.

“This is an important issue, an important public safety issue,” Sue Graham, mother of murdered UVA student Hannah Graham said, when she lobbied lawmakers for something she believes could have prevented her daughter’s death.

The bills are products of recent meetings of the Virginia Crime Commission. 

The bills require mandatory DNA collection after arrests for indecent exposure and obscene sexual display, and after convictions for assault and battery, assault and battery against a family member, petit larceny, concealing merchandise, trespassing, destruction of property and obstruction of justice.

“Of course it is extremely difficult to stand up there and tell my story,” she recounted.

Jesse Matthew, who pled guilty to killing Hannah, was convicted of criminal trespassing in 2010. Had these measures been in place back then, authorities would have discovered Matthew was a suspect in a 2005 Fairfax rape case, where police collected an unknown person's DNA. 

They would have entered his 2010 sample into the system and gotten a hit to that earlier crime. Matthew wouldn't have been on the streets to kill Hannah.

“It's something I feel I have to do in order to protect other young women in Virginia,” Graham added.

Now we've learned the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia is opposing any expansion to this list of crimes.

“If the purpose of the DNA databank is to help to get hits on cases that are among the most serious crimes that are committed, then why are we extracting DNA from people for very minor crimes,” Director of Strategic Communications Bill Farrer asked. “It doesn't make any sense.”

The ACLU will lobby against the bills this session.

“That a person would be forced to turn over their most private information, that includes things that person might not even know about themselves, we don't want that to happen,” Farrer added.

For the bill that requires the DNA sample taken upon arrest, the language said if the charge is dismissed or the defendant is acquitted, the sample will be destroyed

Lawmakers still have to discuss all four measures. The first votes will be taken in the Courts of Justice committees in both the House of Delegates and Senate.

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