Legislation proposed by attorney general candidate Rep. Rob Teilhet (D – Smyrna) could cost Georgia taxpayers over $10 million to implement and an additional $7 million each year thereafter.
If passed, the legislation would mandate the collection of DNA samples from anyone arrested for a felony – even if the individual is later found not guilty of the crime.
Georgia law currently provides for the collection of DNA samples from anyone convicted of or on probation for rape, sodomy, statutory rape, child molestation, enticing a child for indecent purposes, sexual assault against a person in custody, bestiality, necrophilia, incest, burglary, robbery, armed robbery, impersonating an officer, obstruction of an officer and felony controlled substances violations.
Since 2000, anyone convicted of a felony and incarcerated in a state correctional facility has been subjected to mandatory, non-invasive DNA sampling at the time of their entry into prison.
These samples are sent to the Georgia Bureau of Investigations for analysis. The GBI enters the results of the analyses into a DNA data bank.
John Bankhead, Director of Public Affairs for GBI, said expanding the DNA database would require approximately $10 million in initial expenditures and millions more each year to collect, analyze and store samples.
Bankhead’s estimates are based on the number of 2008 felony arrests that would be subject to DNA sample collection under the proposed law. According to Bankhead, Georgia law enforcement agencies made 163,937 felony arrests in 2008. In order to process that many DNA samples, the GBI would require 17 additional evidence technicians, 17 new lab technicians and at least 26 scientists, Bankhead said. Along with annual maintenance costs of $600,000 and supply costs of $4 million, Bankhead predicts the state would spend $7.1 million each year to comply with the legislation.
The additional expense and case load could not come at a worse time for the Bureau.
DNA testing currently mandated by state law has not been fully funded since 2001, Bankhead said. The GBI has relied on federal grants in order to cover the costs.
The GBI also expects to close three of its crime labs in the next few months. With an existing backlog of approximately 6,000 cases, the lab closures could result in significant delays in processing criminal evidence. Currently, it can several weeks to process a DNA sample. Bankhead said the lab currently has a DNA rape kit backlog of 81 cases that are over 30 days old.
“With the budget crisis, the timing certainly is not right,” Bankhead said. “The issue we would see is to fully fund what we have now.”
While costs and case backlog are a concern, Bankhead said the value of DNA testing has been proven.
“We think it is certainly a good investigative tool,” he said.
As of July 2009, the GBI DNA database contained 187,887 samples. To date, GBI testing has resulted in links to over 1,500 unsolved cases. Proponents claim the expansion of the existing DNA database will enable law enforcement agencies to solve more crimes.
Susan Cash, victim-services coordinator for the Piedmont Rape Crisis Center in Winder, believes the legislation could help solve cases such as her own.
Almost 25 years ago, Cash was abducted, shot, beaten, raped and left for dead under an abandoned house in Savannah. Though much of the evidence in her case has been destroyed, articles of clothing still remain from the night she was brutally attacked.
“There is one last test that could be performed,” she said. If that test were performed, any sample obtained could be checked against the DNA database.
While Cash realizes the chance of solving her case is slim, she would like to see it passed for the benefit it could offer to other victims.
“Many people who commit rapes and murders, also commit less violent felony offenses,” she said. Cash sees the legislation as a valuable tool for making sure criminals are apprehended.
“I feel very strongly that victims of crime, in particular violent crime, have a right to wish and desire justice,” she said. “I think it is up to the people, the state and the government to try to seek justice for those who have been wronged.”
I would whole heartedly support this legislation. There are many, many benefits to having a DNA data base containing felon DNA. I believe it should also be retro active to include all felons currently incarcerated in Georgia's prisons and jails.