Ramsey wins approval of DNA testing bill

WPLN News Transcripts

Tennessee Senate Approves DNA Testing Bill

WPLN.org

Last night, the State Senate passed a bill to require people accused of violent crimes to submit a sample of their DNA to a law enforcement database, to be matched against evidence from other, unsolved crimes.

Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey left the podium to present the bill from the floor. He cites a case that prompted the state’s foray into DNA classification.

“This came from a murder in Knoxville. A girl named Johnia Berry was brutally murdered, and they had DNA from the site. And we just thought we’d run that DNA, or the law enforcement, against the DNA data bank, but we don’t have a DNA data bank here in the state of Tennessee. So what this will do, will be the beginning steps of setting up a DNA data bank that several other states have already started.”

Berry was stabbed to death in December 2004 in her apartment in West Knoxville. Her murder remains unsolved.

The bill will require someone convicted of any of the 13 specified violent felonies to have an ‘inside-cheek swab,’ with the resulting sample to be analyzed and filed. Sponsors call it minimally intrusive. Again, Speaker Ramsey…

“And it’s ironic that today, USA Today, in a front page story, has a story about how 200 people have actually been found innocent through …the use of DNA…that they were charged, ….DNA was taken, and it proved they were not guilty of those crimes. So it works both ways, and it’s about time that we in the state of Tennessee start with what has become the 21st century fingerprint, that is, DNA databank.”

House sponsor Jason Mumpower said he would try to move the House version immediately out of the House Budget Subcommittee and have it on the House floor within three weeks.

WEB EXTRA

In 2005, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation got funding to hire six new DNA specialists who have been adding a backlog of DNA samples from convicted criminals into the new data base.

This year’s bill, SB 1196 Ramsey/HB 867 Mumpower, is the subject of a state attorney general’s opinion that says the bill may be hard to defend, constitutionally. The eight-page opinion cites federal fourth amendment protections against unreasonable search.

House sponsor Jason Mumpower, the House Republican Leader, says the opinion doesn’t quite address his bill.

“The attorney general’s opinion is based on case law that dealt with taking DNA blood samples. Our bill specifically takes, or specifies, that the DNA samples are taken by mouth swab, which has been court-tested in other states and the mouth swabs have been ruled to be minimally invasive, just a very simple way, nothing more than frisking a person, or a body search.”

That Attorney General’s opinion is here. The opinion cites problems when the DNA sample is extracted from an arrestee – a person merely accused of a crime – rather than a convicted criminal.

By Joe White

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