DNA Sampling – The Fingerprint of the 21st Century

May 11, 2011

For many years we have watched as DNA testing has changed and benefited the criminal justice system. Through simple tests, convicted felons are properly sentenced and the innocent are set free. In an effort to bring Connecticut’s criminal system up-to-date, legislation has been proposed to expand the collection of DNA among felons.

Currently, under state law, only convicted sex offenders and felons are required to submit DNA samples to be analyzed by the Department of Public Safety’s forensic laboratory and then entered into the department’s DNA data bank. Proposed legislation seeks to expand state law to require that DNA samples be collected from all those arrested for a serious felony offense. Among the offenses considered to be a felony in Connecticut is burglary, kidnapping, sexual assault, manslaughter or assault.

Under this proposed legislation, DNA samples will continue to be collected through a simple, non-invasive, mouth swab test. This type of test is really the fingerprint of the 21st century, taking advantage of proven technologies and advancing Connecticut’s law enforcement system.

The overarching goal here is to provide the state’s law enforcement officials with the best tools available to stop criminals and keep the public safe. By increasing the amount of available information within the state’s DNA database, we can do just that. Language within proposed legislation would provide DNA information earlier and for more felons, ensuring solid evidence and supporting many investigations.

In 2002, similar legislation became law in Virginia, and since then a total of 24 states have mandated DNA sampling for certain arrestees. In some states only violent felonies qualify, while in a growing number of others, all felonies qualify for DNA sampling.

It seems folks have varying opinions about expanding DNA sampling, but in so many cases it leads to a proven conviction. We have all watched the popular television show ‘CSI’ and seen how detectives use biological evidence, like DNA, to close a case. Well the truth is, we do the same right here in Connecticut. Recently we witnessed the conviction and imprisonment of a serial rapist because a simple test linked this man’s DNA to that found on a cigarette at the scene of a crime.

Expanding sampling also provides facts to overturn some cases. In 2006 we saw an innocent Connecticut man exonerated and set free after spending nearly 20 years in prison. DNA testing proved that James Tillman was wrongfully convicted of rape all those years ago.

It is also important to note that statistics show that those convicted of a felony are likely to have committed other crimes. While a DNA test can not reverse the effects of a committed crime, it can in some cases link criminals – fairly quickly – to past crimes, ultimately preventing or reducing further harmful actions.

As a police officer and member of the General Assembly’s Public Safety Committee, one of my top priorities is to safeguard the public the best we can. This proposed legislation works to do so by expanding the capabilities used to convict criminals and should be passed.