My Turn: Expanding DNA databases will save lives

Posted: Sunday, March 09, 2003

Alaska has the highest percentage of reported rapes per capita in the United States and has held this ranking for 19 of the last 26 years. Anchorage currently ranks fifth out of 274 metropolitan areas of reported rapes, half of which are reported by Alaska Natives.

These statistics speak for themselves and they are very alarming. As a legislator, I feel it is my duty to help protect the most vulnerable in the state, and to increase the level of safety that all residents experience here.

Along with Rep. Mike Hawker, I am sponsoring House Bill 49 (HB 49), which expands the DNA testing of convicted criminals. Under current state law, only those felons convicted of crimes against a person, burglary, and felony attempt to commit burglary after Jan. 1, 1996, are required to submit their DNA into the state database. If passed, HB 49 will broaden this law so all persons, including adjudicated juveniles, convicted of felonies, crimes against a person, sexual misdemeanors, those who are required to register as sex offenders, and those currently incarcerated or on parole for these crimes will have their DNA entered into the statewide database.

DNA testing, usually done through a simple mouth swab, is the fingerprinting of the 21st century. Through DNA analysis of blood, hair, fingernails, or skin left at crime scenes, investigators are able to connect perpetrators with their past crimes, or to exonerate those who are falsely accused. Currently 24 states require all felons to submit DNA samples. To that end, collecting DNA from a larger pool will increase the number of violent crimes solved.

DNA has been collected and stored from crime scenes for decades, but without the matching profile, cases remain unsolved and the victims and their families never experience closure or justice. Collecting DNA also helps prevent future crimes. An offender who is not caught quickly remains free to commit more crimes. This is a downward spiral, and we now have the tools at hand to catch these criminals, either at the commission of another violent crime or for a non-violent offense.

One of the most important benefits of increasing the DNA database to include non-violent felonies is the reduction of innocent persons wrongly suspected, arrested, and convicted for someone else's crime. HB 49 works to protect the innocent when both the accused and the offender's profiles are in the database. Within months last year in Santa Clara County, Calif., three men convicted of serious offenses were freed. Additionally, since 1989, DNA tests have cleared 73 persons, eight of whom were on death row and had exhausted their appeals. The DNA database saves lives. The innocent will no longer be at the mercy of mistaken eyewitnesses, hearsay, or other circumstances.

Expanding the DNA database is also cost efficient. Securing DNA profiles saves prosecution time by eliminating suspects; offers solid proof to the courts; and felons who must offer their DNA may not be as likely to re-offend.

HB 49 also increases the penalty for misuse of the database by emphasizing the importance of confidentiality of the DNA records and samples. Those who, without authorization, disclose, use, or tamper (or attempt to tamper) with such records and samples will be penalized.

Many of my colleagues and I ran on a platform that supported improving public safety. HB 49 is a fulfillment of that promise. Not only will this legislation help increase the efficiency and production of law enforcement, it will help save money in the long term by preventing possible future crimes.

For the protection of our mothers, sisters, wives, daughters, and our communities, please support this important crime-fighting legislation. To testify at a hearing, to provide written support, or to track the progress of HB 49 through the legislative process, access our Web site, www.akrepublicans.org.

Rep. Tom Anderson is an Anchorage Republican who serves as chairman of the House Labor and Commerce Committee and as vice chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.



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