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House Judiciary Committee Completes Mark-Up of DNA Testing Bill

On June 12, the House Judiciary Committee approved, by voice vote, H.R. 5057, the Debbie Smith Reauthorization Act of 2008. The committee began consideration of the bill on May 14, after the Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security approved the measure on May 13 (see The Source, 5/16/08). The bill authorizes $151 million for FY2009 and $200 million for FY2010-2014 for a program aimed to mitigate the processing backlog of DNA samples used to investigate and prosecute sexual assault suspects.

The committee approved, by voice vote:

  • an amendment by Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) to direct the Department of Justice inspector general to investigate and report on the number of DNA matches that are investigated, brought to a prosecutor, and sent to trial, as well as to determine the reasons why matches are at times not pursued; and
  • an amendment by Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-NY) to require that within two years, states begin to collect [DNA samples] if not already doing so, and to go back and make sure that [DNA from] the prison population [incarcerated felons] is collected. Forty-seven states already take both of these steps, with Idaho, New Hampshire, and Nebraska being the exceptions. Rep. Weiner continued, “States have certain minimum responsibilities. If they want to take advantage of the database, they have to contribute to it in an equal fashion.”

The committee also approved, 19-12, an amendment by Rep. Schiff to “provide incentives for states to…collect samples from individuals arrested or charged with murder or sex crimes.” In support of his amendment, he said, “Those states…would be eligible for a ten percent increase in federal law enforcement funds for states to collect samples from those arrested for murder and other violent sex crimes.”

During debate on the amendment, Rep. Weiner expressed concern that “law enforcement might be encouraged to [make] arrests…just for the purpose of collecting a lot of DNA evidence.” Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) responded that “if police were to arrest people improperly…without probable cause…that evidence [would be] inadmissible.”

Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz (D-FL) added, “We have to make sure that we get more information, not less…we also have to be thinking about the people who would be proven innocent and would not be pursued for a crime they’re suspected of if we had more DNA evidence available…I just don’t believe that we will have people indiscriminately arrested without probable cause.”

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