Monday, November 30, 2015

Sen. Pileggi pushes for expanded DNA testing

Sen. Pileggi pushes for expanded DNA testing



Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi (R., Delaware) is pushing to require individuals arrested on serious crimes – rather than just convicted on such offenses - to submit DNA samples.

Pileggi will introduce a bill this week to do just that, as well as expand the list of offenses that require DNA collection.

As it stands now, Pennsylvania law requires DNA samples from individuals convicted of any felony offense, indecent assault (a misdemeanor), or child luring (also a misdemeanor).

Pileggi’s bill would expand that list and require those who have been arrested on such charges to submit DNA samples. The new expanded list would include six additional misdemeanor offenses: simple assault against a child under 12 years of age by an adult 21 years of age or older; unlawful restraint; deviant criminal trespassing; concealing the death of a child; endangering the welfare of a child; and dealing in infant children.

In an interview Monday, Pileggi said there had been “a dramatic change” in the science and technology of DNA testing since Pennsylvania began in 1995 collecting DNA samples from people convicted in criminal cases.

And in other states that have moved to require DNA samples prior to conviction, the senator added, “it has proven to have had a dramatic positive impact on law enforcement, in their ability to identify perpetrators of serious crimes and take those criminals off the streets. They have been able to solve crimes they would otherwise been unable to solve.”

Twenty-four other states have put similar laws on the books, according to Pileggi’s office. But his bill will surely place Pennsylvania smack in the middle of a growing national debate over expanding the use of DNA samples, and the risks are associated with the change.

David Rudovsky, a leading civil rights and criminal defense attorney in Philadelphia, said in trying to pass such laws, many states have argued that DNA samples are no different from taking fingerprints.

“That is not the case,” said Rudovsky. “DNA discloses so much more about a person. It shows whether you are susceptible to a disease or a certain condition. There are real concerns with privacy, and whether these genetic markers will be abused or not properly used. That is a very real issue here.”

Pileggi said his bill would require automatic purging of DNA records for those who are exonerated – which is not required under the law now -- and prohibit the use of records in the state DNA database for research into genetic markers.

In his bill, the senator would also permit so-called modified DNA searches. That would allow investigators to determine whether DNA samples lifted from a crime scene closely match the profile of someone already in the statewide database. A modified search would analyze patterns of common DNA characteristics and use other techniques to identify potential relatives.

“The experience in other states with these types of laws is very clear, very dramatic,” said Pileggi, “and the delay in updating our law is allowing criminals to continue to prey on innocent citizens when we have the tools to identify these perpetrators. I think that argument will carry the day.”

The Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a public hearing on Pileggi’s legislation – as well as other DNA-related issues – this Friday at 9:30 a.m. in the Independence Visitor Center in Philadelphia.

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Commonwealth Confidential gives you regularly updated coverage of the state legislature, the governor and the workings of the state bureaucracy. It is written by Angela Couloumbis in the Inquirer's Harrisburg bureau, based in the statehouse, and by the newspaper's far-flung campaign reporters.

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