EDITOR’S NOTE: Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen wants your DNA. Well, he wants state law enforcement to have the legal right and the funding to collect your DNA should you ever be arrested for a felony or convicted of a misdemeanor in Wisconsin.
Van Hollen in recent days has stepped up his press for more funding an expanded statewide DNA database, and he has a very powerful ally in his pursuit.
Gov. Scott Walker on Friday praised Congress and President Obama for H.R. 6014, known as the Katie Sepich Enhanced DNA Collection Act of 2012. The law is designed to encourage the collection of DNA profiles from people arrested for felony crimes.
Walker said he has “long advocated for expanding the DNA collection process for individuals who are arrested,” and he said he intends for the provision to be included in the state budget.
“This new federal law could prove to be helpful as Wisconsin looks to expand its own DNA collection program, and I look forward to working with the Administration and federal agencies on ensuring any Wisconsin program is a success,” the governor said in a statement.
Critics such as the American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin strongly oppose the measure, asserting it would imperil civil liberties while costing taxpayers a fortune. The U.S. Supreme Court could weigh in on the matter this spring.
On Thursday, Van Hollen offered the following column calling for an enhanced DNA database.
By J.B. Van Hollen | Wisconsin Attorney General
In June 2000, an unknown assailant sexually assaulted a woman in a Madison parking ramp. The Wisconsin Department of Justice’s Crime Laboratory Bureau’s (CLB) DNA databank, which contains DNA profiles from convicted felons, did not contain a DNA profile that matched the unknown rapist’s DNA recovered during the rape investigation.
Following felony convictions in 2010, officials obtained a DNA specimen from Christopher R. Golden and uploaded it to the DNA databank, generating a hit on the 2000 sexual assault that ultimately led to his conviction for sexual assault.
Unfortunately, these convictions were not Golden’s first contact with the law. In 1994, Golden was arrested for a felony child abuse offense and was subsequently convicted of misdemeanor battery and intimidation of a witness. On several other occasions before 2000, he was again convicted for misdemeanors.
Had Wisconsin law authorized DNA collection upon his felony arrest in 1994 or for his misdemeanor convictions before 2000, Golden’s DNA profile would have been in the DNA databank and would have likely led to his identification earlier.
The CLB’s DNA databank has assisted law enforcement in matching DNA left at crime scenes in 3,995 cases since 1998 with DNA collected solely from convicted offenders. Unfortunately, the CLB reports that 7,735 DNA profiles developed from crime scene evidence remain unidentified as the DNA databank does not contain a matching offender profile that would permit identification of a potential suspect in these crimes.
With a simple swab inside of an individual’s cheek to obtain a DNA sample, Wisconsin can do more to bring justice to victims and protect our citizens from offenders whose crimes have gone unsolved.
To this end, I have requested the Wisconsin Legislature to expand the number of offender profiles in the DNA databank by authorizing the collection of DNA samples from persons (a) arrested for felonies and select misdemeanors; and (b) convicted of any misdemeanor offense. By expanding DNA collection, Wisconsin will join the federal government and 28 states that allow the collection of DNA at arrest.
Collecting DNA from felony arrestees helps solve crimes and reduce additional victimization. In Virginia, one of the first states to require DNA collection at arrest for certain violent felonies, authorities have received 785 hits on unsolved cases through the Virginia’s arrestee databank, including 117 hits associated with sexual assaults. Studies from other jurisdictions have demonstrated that the failure to collect DNA at arrest may prevent the timely identification of offenders engaged in violent patterns of criminal activity. In Chicago, a study of the criminal histories of eight violent felons demonstrated that DNA collection at the time of the first felony arrest could have potentially prevented 60 additional violent crimes and victimizations, including 22 murders and 30 rapes.
Expanding collection of DNA profiles to include felony arrestees serves several important purposes. First, it helps law enforcement and prosecutors efficiently and successfully investigate and prosecute crimes that may otherwise go unsolved. Second, it increases the likelihood that law enforcement can identify perpetrators of previously unsolved crimes and apprehend them before they commit future crimes. Third, including arrestee DNA in the databank has the potential to exonerate innocent persons wrongfully charged or convicted of certain crimes. Fourth, DNA collection at arrest will substantially enhance the ability of law enforcement to accurately identify persons in custody.
Although the United States Supreme Court will rule on the constitutionality of DNA at arrest later this year, Wisconsin should enact laws that expand the DNA databank to include DNA collected from offenders arrested for felonies or convicted of misdemeanors. Based upon the reasoning of several courts that have considered this issue, I believe that the Supreme Court will uphold these laws and have joined a number of other state attorneys general in an amicus curiae brief supporting the collection of DNA upon arrest. Further, the Supreme Court’s decision on the constitutionality of collecting arrestee DNA will not likely impact the constitutionality of collecting DNA from convicted misdemeanor offenders.
As attorney general, I am committed to protecting the privacy of offenders’ genetic information. My proposal does not change any restrictions that limit the release or use of the collected specimens or DNA profiles for any purpose other than legitimate criminal justice purposes. Further, this proposal also contains provisions that require the CLB to destroy DNA specimens and purge the related profile in the DNA databank of those offenders whose DNA has been collected at arrest and who were not charged with the crime, or, if charged, were not convicted of a crime.
Legislation authorizing law enforcement to collect DNA for felony arrests and upon misdemeanor conviction significantly furthers crime solving objectives without unduly compromising privacy or due process rights. It is time for Wisconsin to join many other states and the federal government, and pass this vital legislation.
Van Hollen, Wisconsin’s 43rd attorney general, was elected in 2006. He was re-elected in 2010.