Lawmakers are considering collecting DNA when individuals are arrested, rather than convicted, for some crimes – a proposal opponents say is unconstitutional and supporters say would prevent violent crime.
House Bill 2588 would require law enforcement to collect DNA from those arrested for major felonies and some gross misdemeanors. The DNA would be entered into a state database.
Currently, samples are taken only after a defendant has been convicted of a felony or qualifying gross misdemeanor such as stalking or violating a sexual-assault protection order.
Supporters say the new measure would stop serial criminals such as Anthony Casper Dias, who was convicted of multiple counts of rape, burglary and robbery in Pierce and King counties in 2008. For his Pierce County crimes alone, he received a sentence of 227 years in prison.
One of his victims, Charisa Nicholas, testified at a public hearing Tuesday that she was bound and held hostage as her friend was raped at their North End Tacoma home in 2005.
Had authorities collected Dias’ DNA upon an earlier arrest, he would have been in prison for a previous rape at the time she and many others were attacked, Nicholas said.
“I am fully behind this bill – just the measures that we can take to prevent other individuals from being impacted by violent crimes, or being able to solve crimes that have been unsolvable,” Nicholas said after the hearing before the House Committee on Public Safety & Emergency Preparedness. “This is one great avenue to be able to pursue justice further.”
Rep. Jeannie Darneille, D-Tacoma, sponsored the proposal, which she says includes more protections for civil liberties than a similar measure she introduced last year. The newest version would require judicial review before samples taken upon arrest could be analyzed and entered into the state database.
“By building in the judicial review, it means that that judge has to look at all the evidence,” Darneille said. “There has to be evidence that shows that this is a person that probably committed that crime.”
Darneille said in her committee testimony that she would expect the measure to be tested in the courts. Some lawmakers and civil rights advocates say collecting the sample before conviction goes against both the federal and Washington constitutions.
“I don’t think that any person should have their DNA taken before they are convicted,” said Rep. Sherry Appleton, D-Poulsbo, who sits on the committee reviewing the bill. “In this country, you are innocent until proven guilty; it’s not the other way.”
Appleton said the bill is a “slippery slope” to other measures that would infringe on privacy and violate Washington’s strong privacy protections. She also has concerns about the cost of the bill.
The DNA collection would be funded in part by redirecting some revenue from traffic infraction fees, but Darneille said those wouldn’t cover additional lab staffing costs entirely. She said lawmakers would need to look at how they can “expand access to that fee or … reduce the number of felonies that are covered in the bill,” among other measures.
The proposal is scheduled for a committee vote Friday.
Alexis Krell: 360-943-7123 alexis.krell@thenews tribune.com