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DNA-collection bills to be introduced in 2017 Legislature

November 8, 2016

After introducing DNA-collection legislation that failed to even get a committee hearing in the two previous General Assembly sessions, Rep. B. Patrick Bauer will be getting boost in the upcoming session from a Republican Senator offering a companion bill in the upper chamber.

Bauer has announced he again will author a bill that requires DNA samples be taken from all suspects arrested for felonies. Also, Sen. Jim Merritt plans to author a similar measure in the Indiana Senate.

The South Bend Democrat has authored the same bill in the two previous sessions of the Indiana General Assembly, mandating law enforcement collect genetic material using a buccal swab from felony arrestees. Rep. Gregory Steuerwald, R-Avon, co-authored both bills. Although neither bill got through the House Committee on Courts and Criminal Code, Bauer is optimistic his legislation will gain the needed support for passage in 2017.

“Law enforcement understands the value of DNA collection,” Bauer said in a press release. “I believe legislators and the public are gaining an awareness of it as well. In particular, I appreciate the state police now coming on board to support the measure. I expect the next governor of Indiana would also support DNA collection.”

More than 30 states require DNA be collected from people arrested for felonies. Supporters say having the samples provide another tool for police and prosecutors to help put more violent criminals in prison. However, Fran Watson, director of the Wrongful Conviction Clinic at Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law, pointed out taking a cheek swab may not be enough.

Unlike the surrounding states, Indiana does not have a law specifically for evidence preservation. Police and sheriffs can collect the DNA but when they try to link it to a crime, the rape kit or other evidence from the scene might no longer be available. Watson said if the state is going to go to the trouble of collecting genotypes from arrestees, it should also ensure the evidence from the crimes is retained.

The bill that Bauer introduced during the 2016 legislative session did not include language for evidence preservation. It did contain language enabling the individual to file for a DNA expungement if the person is acquitted, not charged within 30 days of the arrest or has the charges dropped.  

Merritt, R-Indianapolis, believes the bills will have momentum because the authors will have the  compelling story of Damoine Wilcoxson. He was linked to the September 2016 murder of Zionsville resident John Clements by a DNA sample that Ohio law enforcement collected when Wilcoxson was arrested for another crime.

Merritt said he had not considered Watson’s point but noted evidence preservation might need to enter the conversation. The system created to process the DNA samples from arrestees, he said, must be credible, respected and trustworthy.  

“If we’re serious about solving crime, about having a trustworthy system, it should be a bona fide strong system that is developed,” Merritt said.  

According to the National Center for the Victims of Crime, Michigan and Kentucky require the evidence from a felony be retained for as long as any person connected to the crime is incarcerated. Ohio and Illinois set retention periods based on the felony.  

Already Indiana requires DNA to be collected from individuals convicted of a felony. Indiana Code 10-31-6 provides for genotypes to be taken from offenders who are sent to the Indiana Department of Correction or who remain in the county jail or are placed either in community corrections or on probation. Bauer’s and Merritt’s bills would expand the collection to include arrestees.

Clements’ family members are supportive of the bill and plan to testify at the Statehouse during the legislative session, Merritt said.

Echoing the ruling of Supreme Court of the United States, Merritt said collecting DNA is not any more intrusive than taking an arrestee’s mugshot or fingerprints. A slim majority of the Supreme Court ruled in Maryland v. King, 569 U.S. __ (2013) that DNA is another identifier and its collection by law enforcement does not violate the Fourth Amendment.

Merritt argued that along with helping convict offenders, taking DNA samples from people arrested will also help exonerate the innocent. He acknowledged he has not examined the cost of collecting and storing the DNA samples from arrestees but he said finding the right person who committed the crime would be worth the cost.  

Bauer’s 2016 proposal increased the DNA sample processing fee to $4 and provided some additional money to the processing fund.

 

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