By Mary O’KEEFE
The California Assembly is moving forward with legislation concerning criminal DNA testing [Proposition 69].
In December the California appeals court struck down the state law allowing the collection of DNA from anyone arrested on suspicion of committing a felony. Voters had originally approved the law in 2004.
Collection is continuing after the Supreme Court announced it would hear the case. In the meantime the Assembly Bill 84 was presented as a proactive way of dealing with the law if the Supreme Court does not overturn the Appeals Court decision. In late May that bill was held under submission in committee essentially stopping the process; however, there is new life to AB84.
“After careful consideration, the Assembly has decided to move forward with legislation to protect California’s criminal-DNA testing program (Proposition 69),” stated a release from Assemblymember Mike Gatto’s office. “[The bill] was held in the Assembly’s Appropriations Suspense file last month after a misunderstanding about the bill’s intent. Under the leadership of Speaker Toni Atkins, a bill will be amended in the Senate to clarify the objective of AB 84 and Assembly Speaker Atkins will sign on as a co-author.”
This is good news for Gatto both as a legislator and on a personal level. He has listened to his constituents who are victims voice concern about this investigative tool being taken away from local law enforcement. He had joined Crime Victims United regarding the initial decision to hold AB84.
Gatto said for every suspect arrested there are victims and victims’ families waiting for answers.
“I am one of them,” he said.
His father was murdered in his Silver Lake home in 2013. The case is still open. Gatto said he knows what it is like to wait for that call informing him that they have a suspect.
“I am pleased that this misunderstanding is behind us,” Gatto stated of the release of AB84. “The point of AB84 was to assure that victims and their families are able to constitutionally pursue criminals with DNA testing, and bring violent criminals to justice. I am grateful to know that effort is back on track.”
The collection of DNA is one tool that law enforcement uses in investigating crime, but it has not replaced other investigative tools like fingerprinting. It is just another method and it is a valuable tool.
“The ability to collect DNA has been extremely helpful for police departments,” said Deputy Chief Carl Povilaitis, Glendale Police Dept.
Glendale has a state-of-the-art DNA collection and analysis lab. When the lab first opened it received a federal grant to put the laboratory “in-house.” They analyze data from several cities including Glendale.
Povilaitis said he has seen first-hand how DNA collected from those who have committed a felony is used in solving cases that are still unsolved.
An example given was a woman who had invited a man to her hotel room to have intimate relations. Later as the man was preparing to leave the hotel he attempted to rob the woman; she fought back, he produced a handgun and shot her. Detectives were able to collect DNA from the crime scene and put the DNA into the nationwide federal data base system. Much later the same man was arrested by the Los Angeles Police Dept. for a felony. His DNA was taken, it was matched with the Glendale crime and police also found he was in possession of a gun.
“So you have to think about it as [a] public safety [issue]. This guy was out and about,” he said.
The DNA is only taken from those arrested for serious crimes, felonies, and if they are not convicted of the crime they were arrested for they can petition to remove their DNA from the system.
“The scientific evidence is always important,” Povilaitis said. “Not only to match up suspects but it also has the ability to eliminate suspects.”