- Associated Press - Tuesday, February 3, 2015

MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) - Top officials with the state attorney general’s office and Department of Public Safety called Tuesday for expanding the state’s DNA database beyond those convicted of felonies to those convicted of many misdemeanors as well.

John Treadwell, chief of the criminal division in the attorney general’s office, and Deputy Public Safety Commissioner Francis “Paco” Aumand testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee. They endorsed the plan to take DNA samples from anyone convicted of a misdemeanor that carries a jail sentence. The database already includes those convicted of more serious felonies.

Sen. Richard Sears, the Bennington Democrat who chairs the committee, said the move comes partially in response to a Vermont Supreme Court decision last year striking down a 2009 law that expanded the database to include not just those convicted of felonies, but people charged with those crimes as well.

The court ruled it was a violation of the state Constitution to “impose warrantless, suspicionless DNA collection and analysis” on people who had not been convicted of a crime. Backers of the change discussed Tuesday said the court clearly left open the possibility of expanding the database by adding new types of convictions to those that had been included.

“We think the DNA database is an extremely useful tool” for law enforcement, Treadwell said, because it provides “virtually unique” identifying genetic matter and enables police both to tie perpetrators to biological substances left at crime scenes, as well as to exclude possible suspects whose DNA profiles don’t match material gathered by investigators.

Vermont’s DNA database has been used in several high-profile cases since first being developed nearly 20 years ago. Howard Godfrey was convicted in the 1991 murder of Patricia Scoville in Stowe 17 years after the crime, based on DNA evidence. He died in prison in 2013. John Grega served 18 years in prison in the killing of his wife Christine before being released after newly analyzed DNA evidence resulted in dismissal of the charge.

Support for expanding the DNA database was not unanimous. Some on the committee asked skeptical questions. And Allen Gilbert, director of the state affiliate of the American Civil Liberties Union, said that group opposes the bill.

Mislabeling maple syrup, bringing in more than eight quarts of whiskey from out of state and trespassing on a neighbor’s property are all misdemeanor offenses that carry potential jail sentences, Gilbert said.

“The public policy rationale for collecting and storing somebody’s DNA because they’ve mislabeled maple syrup, bought nine bottles of whiskey in New Hampshire to save a few bucks, or ventured onto a neighbor’s meadow is not clear,” Gilbert said.

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