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Senate panel endorses bill allowing DNA sampling upon felony bookings

Published: Sunday, July 5 2015 8:14 a.m. MDT

Elizabeth Smart spoke in favor of proposed law Friday that would allow police in Utah to collect DNA samples from people booked into jail on any felony charge. (Shutterstock) Elizabeth Smart spoke in favor of proposed law Friday that would allow police in Utah to collect DNA samples from people booked into jail on any felony charge. (Shutterstock)

SALT LAKE CITY — Elizabeth Smart spoke in favor of proposed law Friday that would allow police in Utah to collect DNA samples from people booked into jail on any felony charge.

"I just want to add my support 100 percent," she told the Senate Judiciary, Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Committee.

"If you didn't do anything, you don't have anything to fear. But if you do have something, this is hardly an invasion of privacy. I would say being kidnapped, I would say being raped, I would say being hurt is a much greater invasion of privacy."

State law requires DNA samples to be taken upon all felony convictions and at the time of booking for 77 mostly violent felonies.

HB212 allows DNA samples to be taken at the time of booking for those arrested on any felony. The committee unanimously endorsed the bill and sent it to the Senate floor. The House passed it earlier this month.

The Utah Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers argued against the bill, saying it intrudes on the rights of people the Constitution intends to protect: those who are not convicted of a crime. It violates the rights of those presumed to be innocent, said attorney Steve Burton.

Burton told the committee that the bill is far too expansive and that taking DNA samples for many nonviolent crimes such as failure to pay child support or filing an improper tax return isn't warranted.

Bill sponsor Rep. Steve Eliason, R-Sandy, said DNA testing is a valuable investigative tool. It identifies the guilty and exonerates the innocent, reduces racial profiling and cracks cold cases, he said.

"It helps law enforcement know much sooner who they have in custody and how they should handle and treat them," he said.

Unified police detective Todd Park said that, in a good year, he solves one or two cold cases. He said he hopes the change in law would help him double that.

Alana Kindness, executive director of the Utah Coalition Against Sexual Assault, said DNA sampling is a critical public safety measure that is part of an effort to combat rape, sexual assault and other violent crimes. Rape is reported in Utah at higher rates than the national average, she said.

Smart told the committee many victims whose perpetrators weren't caught live in constant fear. Brian David Mitchell abducted Smart from her Salt Lake home in 2002 and held her captive for nine months.

"One of the hardest things for people to do, one of the hardest things for me to do, would have been to keep going knowing that the person that hurt me, my two captors, were still out there," she said.

Smart said DNA sampling that leads to a conviction would help allay those fears.

"Having that peace of mind, knowing that whoever has hurt you can't hurt you again is absolutely critical in helping them move forward," she said.

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