- Associated Press - Friday, October 24, 2014

LAS VEGAS (AP) - A law that requires DNA samples from everyone arrested on a felony charge has drawn little attention in the nearly four months it has been in practice in Nevada, despite criticism that it would violate the privacy of people who hadn’t been convicted of a crime.

Before the law went into effect July 1, cheek swabs were used to collect genetic material only after a person was found guilty.

But Nevada lawmakers last year passed a measure dubbed “Brianna’s Law” after 19-year-old college student Brianna Denison of Reno.

Denison was abducted, raped and murdered in 2008 by James Biela, who was convicted and sentenced to death. Backers argued that Denison might still be alive if DNA testing was in place because Biela had a prior felony arrest and raped two women just months before Denison’s death.

Arrestees now have their DNA taken before they are assigned a jail cell, and the data is entered in the FBI’s Combined DNA Index System to remain indefinitely.

Nevada’s forensic labs have taken the increased workload in stride, and officials say only one person out of the more than 4,700 samples taken since July has refused to provide a cheek swab.

The results: Thirty-one samples have matched arrestees to crimes ranging from burglary to sexual assault, including cases in Delaware and Chicago.

The Nevada law allowed authorities since July 2013 to assess a $3 fee from every person convicted of a felony or misdemeanor, and Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department forensic lab chief Kimberly Murga said the more than $588,000 that has been collected let her expand the lab DNA technician staff from one to four full-time workers, and one part-timer.

Before the new law, 300 to 500 DNA samples were sent each month from southern Nevada jails to the Las Vegas police forensic lab. Now, more than 1,500 per month are collected.

Each week, the approximately 60,000 samples in the southern Nevada database are searched against samples collected in northern Nevada. The state’s two labs are overseen by the Central Repository for Nevada Records of Criminal History in Carson City.

All Nevada samples are then searched against the FBI’s more than 12 million DNA samples from arrestees, convicts and crime scenes. Samples aren’t taken from juveniles unless a court certifies them to be charged as an adult.

To address privacy concerns, Julie Marschner, administrator of the Las Vegas police DNA database, said a sample is labeled by number, not a name. When two profiles match, extra steps are required to identify the person.

If a court finds there wasn’t probable cause for a felony arrest, the law requires the sample to be destroyed before it can leave the jail, bound for the lab and the Combined DNA Index, dubbed CODIS.

Since July, that has accounted for about 200 samples.

Marschner said it can take about two months from the day a sample is taken before it is uploaded into CODIS.

The American Civil Liberties Union took a strong stance against the new law, with staff attorney Michael Risher calling it a “serious blow to genetic privacy.”

ACLU spokeswoman Vanessa Spinazola is part of a legislative subcommittee considering changes and amendments to the Nevada law.

She said she has two main worries: That DNA samples will be used to search against specific family members of offenders, and that not enough DNA samples will be destroyed if arrestees aren’t convicted.

Wording in Nevada’s law also has left some confusion about when DNA samples should be destroyed. Officials say that even if the arrestee is cleared of charges, their DNA stays in the database.

The two dozen states with similar laws have different policies on disposing of samples. In Nevada, a person has to seek to have the record deleted, or expunged.

Only five people have sought expungement, and officials said all five were turned down because the forensic lab deemed their applications incomplete or incorrectly filled out.

Spinazola said the ACLU doesn’t believe many people will go through a complicated expungement process requiring a court order.

Las Vegas police Capt. Richard Suey said only one man fought having a DNA sample taken during booking at the Clark County Detention Center.

When that happens, jailers call a judge to get a search warrant and then take a sample by blood draw.


Information from: Las Vegas Review-Journal, https://www.lvrj.com

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