| Since the General Assembly codified the Pennsylvania State DNA Database in 1995, there have been great strides in the use of DNA evidence to bring dangerous criminals to justice. In recent years, other states and the federal government have improved their DNA collection and testing policies to reflect the increased capability of forensic science and the reliability of DNA testing. Pennsylvania has not.
While Pennsylvania law enforcement agencies continue to make effective use of DNA evidence in obtaining convictions, I believe changes are necessary to keep pace with technological advances – and to ensure that DNA evidence and samples are collected, analyzed and used appropriately and with respect for individual privacy concerns.
I plan to introduce legislation to modernize and reform the administration, application and use of the Pennsylvania State DNA Database.
This legislation will:
- Expand the eligible criminal offenses for which DNA testing is required. The law in Pennsylvania currently allows DNA samples after conviction of any felony offense and certain misdemeanor offenses related to child luring and indecent assault. Studies have shown that the collection of DNA from individuals who commit lower-level .gateway. crimes facilitates the prosecution of unsolved felonies. This legislation will expand DNA collection to include certain misdemeanor offenses including concealing the death of a child, endangering the welfare of a child, reckless endangerment, simple assault against a child, and unlawful restraint.
- Expand DNA testing to certain arrested individuals. The law in Pennsylvania only authorizes the collection of DNA samples from individuals convicted or subject to an accelerated rehabilitative disposition (ARD) order. Twenty-six states and the federal government now obtain DNA samples from arrested individuals. The legislation would require collection of a DNA sample from any person arrested for criminal homicide beginning one year after the effective date of the legislation and from any person arrested for a felony sex offense two years after the effective date.
- Codify accreditation requirements for forensic DNA testing laboratories. Pennsylvania law requires that DNA records be maintained consistent with FBI procedures and that the procedures include quality assurance guidelines to ensure that DNA identification records meet standards for laboratories which submit DNA records. This legislation will require that forensic DNA testing laboratories are accredited laboratories in compliance with the standards of The FBI Quality Assurance Standards for Forensic DNA Testing Laboratories.
- Require continuing education for forensic DNA testing personnel. The FBI Quality Assurance Standards for Forensic DNA Testing Laboratories recently established continuing education requirements for personnel of forensic DNA testing laboratories. This legislation will require regulations to assure that forensic DNA testing laboratory personnel in Pennsylvania comply with these standards.
- Clarify existing language to ensure the privacy and proper use of DNA records. Pennsylvania law currently allows the maintenance of DNA records in the State DNA Database for research and law enforcement identification. This legislation will clarify this language to prohibit the use of DNA records for human behavioral genetic research or for other identification purposes.
- Authorize the use of “partial match” DNA searches. Other states, including Florida, Colorado, and California, allow “partial match” DNA searches. A “partial match” consists of a crime scene DNA sample that does not exactly match a DNA sample in the State DNA Database but does contain enough common characteristics to indicate that the source of the crime scene DNA may be a relative of the offender in the DNA Database. This legislation will allow the name of the offender who is a “partial match” to be released to law enforcement officials under certain conditions to allow further investigation into whether or not a relative of the offender is the source of the crime scene DNA sample or otherwise responsible for the crime.
- Require the automatic purging of the DNA records of exonerated individuals. Pennsylvania law currently requires that DNA records shall be expunged under certain circumstances only when the exonerated individual whose DNA record is in the State DNA Database requests that it be done. This legislation will permit a person to file a written request to have DNA information removed from the database if it was included in the database by mistake. It will also allow individuals to petition the court for expungement under certain circumstances including acquittals, a reversal of a conviction or where charges for which the sample was collected have not been pursued.
The legislation will also require the Commissioner of the State Police to submit an annual report to the General Assembly on the collection and testing of DNA samples.
This legislation includes a number of changes to the original bill I introduced last session, reflecting input from various Senators, the House, and the Corbett Administration. It will be similar to Senate Bill 775 (printer’s number 2506) from the 2011-12 legislative session, which passed the Senate 44-5 on October 17, 2012, but was not considered in the House before the end of session.