Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Expand DNA Use

February 6, 2008

Hartford Courant - Hartford, Connecticut

Gov. M. Jodi Rell has proposed legislation expanding DNA sampling to include all suspects of serious crimes. The General Assembly should pass it.

DNA technology has dramatically improved law enforcement's ability to identify criminals and free innocent people wrongly convicted. Broadening the state's database would serve justice.

The benefits of DNA evidence were apparent in the high-profile case of James C. Tillman, the Hartford man who was cleared of rape last year after spending 18 years in jail. Mr. Tillman is one of more than 200 prisoners who have been exonerated through DNA evidence in the past 10 years.

Ironically, Gov. M. Jodi Rell's proposal was validated the day after she unveiled it: Hartford police announced they had linked the same DNA that freed Mr. Tillman to a career criminal who once lived in the city and now sits in a Virginia jail.

Current statutes require the collection of DNA samples from anyone convicted of a felony, a crime against a minor, or violent and nonviolent sexual offenses. Mrs. Rell's proposal would expand sampling to all Class A and Class B felony suspects and people convicted of certain Class A misdemeanors, including criminally negligent homicide, third-degree assault, third-degree assault on an elderly, blind, pregnant or retarded person, fourth-degree sexual assault and stalking.

Class A felonies, the most serious crimes, carry a 10-year minimum prison sentence. Class B felonies carry a five-year minimum.

Gov. Rell's proposal should limit DNA use strictly to crime-fighting. The legislation should include protections against the use of the state's data bank by commercial interests, such as insurance companies seeking to use samplings to determine eligibility for medical coverage.

A similar proposal, introduced last year by state Rep. Michael Lawlor, was defeated in the Public Safety Committee by a single vote.

Perhaps the governor's support will enable the bill to pass this time around. It's overdue.

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