Judiciary Committee

JOINT FAVORABLE REPORT

Bill No.:

HB-6489

Title:

AN ACT REQUIRING DNA TESTING OF PERSONS ARRESTED FOR THE COMMISSION OF A SERIOUS FELONY.

Vote Date:

4/6/2011

Vote Action:

Joint Favorable

PH Date:

3/9/2011

File No.:

SPONSORS OF BILL:

Judiciary Committee

REASONS FOR BILL:

After years of being against the concept of DNA testing upon arrest of persons arrested for serious crimes Rep. Ernest Hewett realized, after learning of the case of Katie Sepich, that this procedure would save lives. Rep. Hewett has changed his position on DNA upon arrest, arranged to have Katie's mother Jayann Sepich travel from New Mexico to testify, and is leading the efforts to have this bill become law.

RESPONSE FROM ADMINISTRATION/AGENCY:

Division of Criminal Justice, Kevin Kane Chief States Attorney: Supports this bill. The Division has historically supported the collection of DNA from persons arrested for felony offenses and has further supported the taking of these samples at the point of arrest, just as fingerprints are now taken. These provisions would increase the effectiveness of the DNA data bank as a means not only of identifying repeat offenders but equally important of exculpating persons suspected of committing crimes they did not in fact commit. While the Division fully recognizes that such an expansion would carry a significant fiscal impact, we cannot understate the value of DNA analysis to the pursuit of justice. It should also be noted that the fiscal impact of collecting samples from those arrested for serious felonies at the time of arrest may not be as great as some might expect since the reality is that many, if not most, of these individuals will eventually be convicted either through plea or trial and will be required to submit samples under current law. Essentially it may be more a question of when the sample is taken as opposed to if it is taken.

Danny R. Stebbins, Acting Commissioner, Dept. of Public Safety: This proposed bill would require that DNA samples be take from persons arrested for serious felonies. This is good public safety policy, but the committee should be aware that it will have significant fiscal impact and the agency's existing statutory responsibilities for DNA are not properly funded. Although the Department of Public Safety finds the expansion of DNA testing for arrested individuals for serious felony arrests highly desirable from a pubic safety perspective the Connecticut Forensic Laboratory would need substantial additional funding for DNA supplies and general funded positions to sustain this proposal.

Stephen N. Ment, Judicial Branch: No position on the substance of the bill. They respectfully note the following:

In Section 2(a)(1), we would suggest that after: release from custody” in line 103, the words “or transfer of custody” be added. This will clarify that the law enforcement agency that made the arrest is to take the sample of individuals released from custody, as well as those that are transferred to a DOC or Judicial Branch facility.

In regards to section 3(b), the Judicial Branch currently has no mechanism to notify the State Police Forensic Science Laboratory that a dismissal, nolle or acquittal has been entered. Furthermore, it would be difficult and costly to create an interface because we have no identifiers, such as a docket number, in common. Therefore, we would respectfully suggest that another unit within Department of Public Safety (DPS) – the State Police Bureau of Identification (SPBI) – notify the forensic lab of the outcome since we currently provide this information to SPBI.

Also, in regards to section 3, basing the expungement on the outcome of the initial arrest charge could be problematic. Since charges are often modified by the prosecution throughout the process, it would seem to make sense to expunge the sample only if the arrest does not result in a conviction on any serious felony charge.

Brian S. Carlow, Deputy Chief Public Defender: Opposes Sections of this bill. Requiring DNA from every person who is arrested for certain offenses may violate constitutional protections afforded under the state and federal constitutions. This process may also violate a person's privacy. DNA reveals vast amounts of medical information about not only that person, but also any person related to him or her. While only a portion of the genetic profile is used for forensic identification purposes, the sample taken contains the entire genetic profile of that person. It is very important to note that the sample with the entire genetic profile of the individual is kept on a “FTA” card and is permanently retained by the state laboratory.

We are also concerned about the impact this legislation may have on the ability of the state forensic lab to test evidence of current crimes in a timely fashion. It is our understanding that there is a current backlog of over 3,800 samples related to pending cases that need testing. We would submit that the testing should be the priority in the face of limited resources. Testing evidentiary samples from current cases will assist the parties in assessing not only who might have committed the crime in question, but also establish that an accused or suspect did not commit the crime.

NATURE AND SOURCES OF SUPPORT:

Jayann Sepich: Supports this bill. In August 2003 we learned that our daughter Katie was brutally raped, strangled and set on fire. After we buried our daughter we turned our attention to finding out who could have done this. The detective told us that she had fought desperately for her life and that the skin and blood of her attacker had been under her fingernails. I felt hope. I thought the attacker would get arrested again and they would take his DNA and we'll have him. The detective advised us that it was illegal to take DNA from arrested persons that we would have to wait until he was convicted of a felony. I couldn't believe it. We take fingerprints and photos of arrested persons but we don't take DNA – the most accurate, powerful scientific tool available.

After doing some research I found many cases where the taking of DNA samples upon arrest could have saved many lives. In one case an individual went on to rape and murder 13 women after being arrested for a felony. Two of these women were pregnant and an innocent man was convicted of the first crime and served 11 years in prison.

The DNA database can be used ONLY for criminal identification. It has no potential to reveal any genetic or medical information. Furthermore, there are no names or social security numbers in the DNA database. The only time this profile becomes more than a digital record deep inside a very protected computer is when all of the numbers match to crime scene DNA. At that time the originating state is notified that a match has been made. The sample is retested for accuracy. The state goes to their secured and protected offline database to match the specimen ID# in the profile to an actual name. This information can only be released to law enforcement personnel to be used as an investigative lead. If the case proceeds to court a warrant is issued to take another DNA sample, it is retested and this is the evidence that is presented in court.

My daughter was murdered on August 31, 2003. Less than three months later a suspect was arrested for aggravated burglary. But we didn't have Katie's Law at that time so his DNA was not taken. It was three years and three months after Katie was murdered that he was finally convicted of a felony and incarcerated and his DNA profile matched the DNA found in the skin and blood underneath her fingernails. Armed with this DNA match, the detectives found other incriminating evidence and faced with this evidence the suspect plead guilty and is now serving 69 years in prison without the possibility of parole.

Robert J. Kane, State Senator: Supports this bill. DNA samples are the moden-day version of fingerprints. DNA evidence allows prosecutor access to new important tools for identifying criminals. There are many examples of how DNA evidence has helped to solve cases that have gone cold. This new law would make it easier to catch repeat offenders, provide more evidence during investigations and present new leads in cases with not much to go on. Our goal is to prevent violent crime from occurring, and this proposal will move us toward that goal. We already have the technology; let's use it to our advantage so that we can identify offenders at the right time.

Frank N. Nicastro, Sr, State Representative: Strongly supports this bill. This bill is modeled after “Katie's Law” that is being adopted nationally. Katie Sepich was brutally murdered in 2003 and her killer, under arrest for burglary in 2006, had his DNA matched as Katie's killer. Had DNA testing of arrestees been law in 2003, Katie's kliller would have been caught much sooner rather than in 2006, after committing another burglary. DNA matching will not only save lives by locking up dangerous criminals but also prevent repeat offenders from committing additional crimes.

David R. Cameron: Supports this bill. I believe there are at least three compelling reasons why the State should extend the compulsory taking of a DNA sample to those arrested for a serious felony. First, extending sampling to those arrested for such a felony would increase the likelihood that at least some of the many unsolved crimes in which there is biological evidence from an unknown source, including crimes which remain unsolved for a very long time, would be solved. Second, requiring a DNA sampling to those arrested for a felony is the likelihood that it would prevent the commission of some crimes by individuals who commit multiple crimes. Third is the likelihood that it might contribute to identifying and overturning some wrongful convictions that have alredy occurred and prevent some wrongful convictions in the future.

Connecticut Conference of Municipalities: The CCM appreciates the intent behind this proposal. This bill would impose a new unfunded state mandate on already strained local budgets. CCM urges the committee either (1) make sure that the State provides adequate funding to implement this proposal, or (2) take no action on this bill.

NATURE AND SOURCES OF OPPOSITION:

Andrew Schneider, Executive Director, American Civil Liberties Union, Connecticut: Oppose this bill. There is a vast difference between using DNA as a tool in investigations – both to catch the guilty and exonerate the wrongly accused – and storing the most intimate biological information of persons who have not been convicted of any crime, even if it is only stored for the duration of the legal proceedings that ends in acquittal which can sometimes take years).

Massive expansion of DNA collection Is unlikely to make us safer and may even undermine criminal justice. DNA is only found at a small fraction of crime scenes. The ability of law enforcement to resolve crimes using DNA evidence is limited by its ability to glean DNA from crime scenes; not by the number of people in the database. Unchecked expansion of DNA databanks will encourage law enforcement to spend a disproportionate amount of time and money mining crime scenes for DNA, when resources could better be spent on other techniques, such as community policing.

DNA testing is not infallible; mistake can and have been made in the collection and analysis of DNA and the reporting of results, sometimes resulting in innocent people serving time for crimes they did not commit.

Finally, unchecked expansion reinforces racial disparities. A DNA databank that includes arrestees will unfairly represent minorities, who are wrongfully arrested at a disproportionately higher rate than whites.

Christopher Duby, Ct. Criminal Defense Lawyers Assoc: Opposes this bill. The association opposes this bill for five reasons. They are

1. The intent of the proposed legislation is in direct and immediate conflict with various Connecticut and federal constitutional guarantees.

2. Such law, if enacted, violates the privacy of people who are arrested but whose guilt or innocence has yet to be adjudicated.

3. Local police departments would be required to absorb the cost of collecting DNA samples, thereby imposing an additional administrative cost on already-overburdened agencies.

4. There is no assurance that the dismissal, nolle or other non-guilt disposition would result in any protection of the defendant's privacy rights.

Reported by: George Marinelli

Date: April 19, 2011