Editorials

Democrats line up against police use of DNA

Criminalist, Ryan Nickel, views a prepared slide of a semen sample from a sexual assault case in a microscope at the Sacramento District Attorney's Crime Lab in 2010.
Criminalist, Ryan Nickel, views a prepared slide of a semen sample from a sexual assault case in a microscope at the Sacramento District Attorney's Crime Lab in 2010. Sacramento Bee file

Four state Senate Democrats blocked a bill that would have allowed law enforcement to collect DNA from people convicted of certain misdemeanors, potentially helping violent criminals avoid capture.

Law enforcement and police officers’ unions backed Assembly Bill 390 by Assemblyman Jim Cooper, D-Elk Grove. The Assembly approved the measure, a fix to the voter-approved Proposition 47, by a 74-2 vote.

Sacramento County District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert and San Bernardino County District Attorney Mike Ramos testified for the bill before the Senate Public Safety Committee earlier this week.

California’s DNA database has grown to 2.2 million samples, and 41,000 crimes have been solved because of DNA, Schubert said. One was the 1989 murder of 80-year-old Sophie McAllister. Donald Carter is in prison, having been tied to the crime after authorities took a DNA swab following a drug arrest 20 years later.

However, Senate Public Safety Committee Chairwoman Loni Hancock, D-Berkeley, suggested that DNA collection could lead to invasion of privacy, and said there are instances in which DNA evidence has been misapplied.

Other critics of the bill contended voters could have known when they approved Proposition 47 last November that law enforcement no longer would take DNA samples from people convicted of some low-level property and drug possession crimes.

Nearly 60 percent of the voters backed Proposition 47. However, there was no public discussion during the campaign that the measure would restrict DNA collection. The Sacramento Bee’s editorial board opposed Prop. 47, believing that with a few exceptions, criminal law is too complex to be altered by initiative.

Attorney General Kamala Harris did not take a stand on DNA collection legislation by Assemblyman Jim Cooper, D-Elk Grove.

Joining Hancock in voting against the measure were Sens. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, Bill Monning, D-Carmel, and Carol Liu, a Los Angeles-area Democrat. Republicans Jeff Stone of Riverside and Joel Anderson of San Diego County and Democrat Steve Glazer of Orinda voted for it.

Alas, Attorney General Kamala Harris failed to take a position on the bill. An aide to Harris said she didn’t get involved because her office is defending DNA collection before the state Supreme Court. However, that case involves people whose DNA was collected after felony arrests. Cooper’s bill is aimed at people convicted of certain misdemeanors.

“Something as important as this, you can’t just sit at the sidelines,” Cooper told an editorial board member.

Harris should help revive Cooper’s bill, and opponents should resolve whatever legitimate concerns they may have. Otherwise, they might as well be taking the side of science deniers and, yes, violent criminals.

  Comments