AG tells national gathering of legislators
Taking DNA samples upon arrest helps solve and prevent crime, brings peace of mind to victims, and makes communities safer, North Carolina’s Attorney General Roy Cooper told state legislators from across the country.
“DNA from arrestees pinpoints suspects more quickly, gets predators off the streets sooner, and clears suspects who have been wrongly accused,” Cooper told legislators at a gathering hosted by DNA Saves, an advocacy group.
Cooper spoke following the keynote address by Elizabeth Smart, who has become an advocate for public safety issues after she was kidnapped at age 14 from her home in Utah. More than half of U.S. states now collect DNA upon arrest.
At Cooper’s urging the North Carolina legislature approved collecting DNA upon arrest for violent felonies starting last year, and considered adding more crimes this year. He told legislators that just passing laws to permit collection of DNA samples upon arrest is not enough. States must also invest in the resources and forensic scientists needed to gather and analyze DNA samples as well as officers to act upon the results.
“Just passing a law without resources for implementation is only half the job,” he said. “Getting those samples into the database quickly and accurately, then tracking the hits and arresting a suspect is what gets results.”
Following his remarks, Cooper was honored by Elizabeth Smart and DNA Saves as a “Katie’s Hero” for his work winning a state law to authorize the collection of DNA from certain arrestees in North Carolina starting in 2011.
Dave and Jayann Sepich founded DNA Saves in memory of their daughter, Katie, a graduate student who was brutally raped and murdered in New Mexico in 2003. Not long after Katie’s death, her murderer was arrested on an unrelated felony charge. Had his DNA sample been taken at that time rather than three years later upon his conviction on the unrelated charge, Katie’s murder would have been solved quickly and a dangerous murderer taken off the streets years sooner. The Sepichs formed DNA Saves to advocate for DNA arrestee testing laws in 2008, and 26 states including North Carolina have now passed such laws.
“Arrestee DNA testing is solving crime, preventing crime, saving lives, saving tax payer dollars and exonerating the innocent. You have been a vital part of making this a reality in North Carolina,” Jayann Sepich wrote to Cooper notifying him that he would be honored as a “Katie’s Hero.”
In North Carolina, the State Crime Lab, a part of the State Bureau of Investigation in Cooper’s Department of Justice, maintains the state’s DNA database and provides law enforcement with analysis of evidence that may contain DNA. The North Carolina DNA database contains nearly 225,000 profiles and has helped to solve more than 2,100 cases since its inception in 1994. The State Crime Lab had more hits to the DNA database last year than in the first 11 years of the DNA program combined.
The database includes profiles from all convicted felons and since Feb. 1, 2011, also includes profiles from certain arrestees under the state law backed by Cooper. The lab obtained hits to 43 arrestee DNA profiles since the law’s enactment. A hit can help law enforcement solve a case with no known suspects and can also clear wrongly accused suspects.
In North Carolina, local law enforcement agencies take DNA samples from certain arrestees by cheek swab. The samples are then analyzed and uploaded to the state and national DNA databases. The samples are run against DNA taken from unsolved crimes to look for matches, and stored to compare against evidence collected from crime scenes. If an arrestee isn’t convicted or the case is dismissed, the arrestee’s sample is removed.
Courts have upheld the practice as constitutional and have equated the collection of DNA at arrest to the taking of fingerprints at booking. The U.S. Supreme Court is set to take up the issue later this year.