Police: DNA sample law would benefit, not burden

Argen Duncan

Local law enforcement officials say a proposed requirement to take DNA samples from people arrested for any felony would be a benefit, not a burden.

Under existing state law, anyone 18 or older arrested for felonies involving death or bodily harm, sexual assault, kidnapping, burglary, larceny, robbery, aggravated stalking, use of a firearm or an explosive or violation of the Antiterrorism Act must provide jail personnel with a DNA sample during booking. Law enforcement officers can then use the DNA records to help in investigations.

House Bill 256 would expand the list of offenses requiring DNA samples to include any felony. It passed with a 55-13 vote.

“It’s going to be a benefit in that there will be a few more felonies in which DNA will be collected,” said Portales Police Chief Jeff Gill.

He said most felonies are covered under the existing law.

Gill is in favor of the bill as long as the procedure continues to expunge records if the person is acquitted.

A version of the bill passed in the Senate (SB 365) by a 38-3 vote, but two amendments were made that Senate Republicans said fundamentally change the bill.

The first would not allow for DNA sample collection until a court has found probable cause the person committed the felony. The second amendment would allow a person to request expungement of the sample if charges are dismissed, a conviction is reversed or if there is no charge of felony within a year of arrest.

The law existed since 2006, when it required DNA samples to be taken from everyone convicted of a felony, Gill said. In 2007, it was expanded to mandate samples from anyone arrested for certain felonies.

Roosevelt County Sheriff’s Chief Deputy Malin Parker said he supports the expansion of DNA sampling.

“I believe that it will help because most of our felons, statistically, tend to be repeat offenders,” he said, adding the additional DNA could help law enforcement find dangerous people and solve cold cases.

Parker also said he believed the DNA testing should be limited to felons. He said he supports the version of the bill introduced into the House, but not the attachments for the expungement of records.

Gov. Susanna Martinez has stated on her website that she supports such an expansion.

Roosevelt County Detention Center officials aren’t worried about extra work if the bill passes.

“I don’t look at it to be too much more of a burden on the officers; it may take a few more minutes,” said RCDC Administrator David Casanova.

Casanova said New Mexico DNA Identification System Administrator John F. Krebsbach believes two-thirds of the people arrested for felonies are already in the database. A person doesn’t have to give another sample once booking officers verify the DNA is already in the system.

Roosevelt County Detention Center Booking Officer George Rowan said the DNA Identification System in Albuquerque sends pre-packaged kits for DNA samples and officers must go through training to administer them.

The sampling involves getting a cheek swab and packaging it properly, and takes five minutes or so, he said. Rowan said RCDC can go months without needing to take a DNA sample.

Of the people arrested for felonies coming into the jail, he said, 90 percent have already given a sample “because we get a lot of repeats.”

Providing a DNA sample is required to complete the booking process for felony arrests, Rowan said. If someone refuses, they’re not allowed to bond out of jail.

Rowan said he’s never had anyone refuse to give a sample, although a few have gotten mad about it.

The testing is paid through fees assessed to those convicted of felonies. According to the Legislature’s fiscal impact report, “The fund does not generate sufficient revenue to sustain the program long term without supplemental funding, either through federal grants or the general fund. The current known fund balance (of $722,560) could sustain the program for approximately two years.”