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Bill seeks DNA sample after all felony arrests
by Deb Weinstein - Associated Press
Apr 13, 2011 | 800 views | 0 0 comments | 4 4 recommendations | email to a friend | print
CARSON CITY, Nev. (AP) — Families of a murdered Reno woman and a kidnapped Utah girl urged Nevada lawmakers to expand the net of DNA collection, telling the Assembly Judiciary Committee on Wednesday that requiring genetic samples upon a felony arrest could spare others their pain.

Supporters wearing "Bring Brianna Justice" pins said AB552 is an essential tool for keeping children safe.

The bill would allow police to take DNA swabs when making arrests for felonies, sexual offenses and gross misdemeanors. Nevada law currently allows police to collect DNA after a person has been convicted.

Brianna Denison's mother, Bridgette Zunino-Denison, told the committee that police could have stopped James Biela before he raped and killed her daughter if they had been able to take his DNA during a 1996 arrest.

"After his first reported rape in December 2007 they could have matched him to the prior crime and his identity would have been known," she said.

Biela, an ex-Marine and pipefitter, raped two other women before he attacked and killed 19-year-old Brianna in January 2008. He was convicted last year and sentenced to death and four life prison terms.

Zunino-Denison was accompanied by her sister Lauren Denison, who introduced herself as "Brianna's auntie" as well as Jayann Sepich, whose daughter Katie, was raped and killed in New Mexico in 2003.

Sepich has been lobbying states to adopt laws like AB552, as she did in her home state. She said that had New Mexico been collecting DNA upon arrest her daughter's killer would have been quickly identified because he had been arrested for aggravated burglary three months after Katie Sepich's death.

Jayann Sepich said the police would have been able to link the DNA from the crime scene to the burglary arrest.

Instead, Sepich said she had to wait three years and three months for the killer to be identified — the time it took for him to be convicted of a felony and swabbed for DNA.

"If this law is not passed this year in Nevada, in the months and the years to come there will exist a list of names of Nevada victims that could have been saved," Sepich said.

Edward Smart, whose daughter Elizabeth was kidnapped from the family's Utah home in 2002, also spoke in favor of the bill. Smart said that although his daughter was returned to him, he was part of a club "no one wants to belong to."

Smart said the motivation behind AB552 is simple: "The bottom line is we love our children and don't want to see them suffer."

Twenty-four states allow police to collect DNA samples before a person is convicted of a crime. As currently written, the bill would allow police to take DNA samples and submit them for genetic analysis if there was an arrest warrant. If the arrest was made without a warrant, police would have to wait until a magistrate determines probable cause for the arrest.

The DNA samples would then be converted into genetic profiles that focus on 13 distinct markers and included in a national database.

A person can apply to have their genetic profiles removed from the state and federal databases under certain circumstances, including not being charged for additional felonies or sexual offenses 10 years after they were arrested and swabbed.

Although supporters say genetic profiles do not reveal medical history or race, opponents says AB552 runs serious constitutional risks.

Orrin Johnson of the Washoe County Public Defender's Office told the committee that the courts have been waffling on whether or not the swabs amount to an invasion of privacy, and therefore a violation of the Fourth Amendment.

Johnson urged the committee to wait until the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decides a case dealing with the issue before approving AB552.

Johnson said that although swabbing for DNA could appear to be the same thing as taking fingerprints, the two identification methods are quite different. Johnson told The Associated Press that a California litigant explained the difference to a judge by saying, "I shake hands with people I just met. I don't let them stick things in my mouth."

Johnson also warned lawmakers that if the courts were to declare AB552 unconstitutional after arrest-DNA has been used in convictions, those cases could be overturned.

Rebecca Gasca with the American Civil Liberties Union said AB552 upends a core right. Gasca said the collection of DNA "renders that person an automatic suspect" and goes against the idea of innocent until proven guilty.

No action was taken on the bill.
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