02/27/11 — State boosts DNA testing

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State boosts DNA testing

By Gary Popp
Published in News on February 27, 2011 1:50 AM

A new state law allows the SBI to create a massive database of DNA taken from people who have been charged with certain crimes.

The law, which went into effect Feb. 1, requires all law enforcement agencies in the state to collect DNA samples from people at the time the charge is filed. The DNA is then handed over to the SBI, which has sole control over the database, although it will be part of a larger one maintained by the FBI.

The law is expected to greatly expand the state's existing DNA database, which contains about 200,000 profiles, giving local, state and national law enforcement officials an even larger and more comprehensive group from which to compare evidence found at crime scenes.

Under the law, the charges that now require DNA sampling range from murder to assault, from kidnapping to burglary, and from armed robbery to cyberstalking.

Previously, only those who were convicted of a felony were required to have their DNA entered into the database.

The Wayne County Sheriff's Office is enthusiastic about having the expanded DNA database as a resource.

"On major cases, I think it will help out greatly," Wayne County Sheriff's Office Lt. Sean Harris said.

He explained that the database will not be used for criminal prosecution, but only as an investigative tool.

"If we get a hit from the database, we still have to find the subject, take a DNA sample and compare that sample to assure we have 100 percent match," Harris said.

He said the database should add accuracy to police work, not result in erroneous arrests.

"Just because we get a hit, we don't run out and arrest someone," Harris explained.

Officials with the Goldsboro Police Department are equally excited at the prospect of having the DNA database as an investigative tool.

"It is an excellent thing if (the SBI) can get the database created. It will be awesome," Goldsboro police Investigator Chris Crawford said. "It is going to be vast. It should grow very large in a short period of time, I would think.

"It is a good thing. It is going to benefit law enforcement tremendously and the public."

To handle the increased DNA entries from across the state, the SBI hired seven additional personnel, including scientist and technicians.

"The process of comparing DNA samples turned in to the SBI database will speed up dramatically, we are told, but it depends on the backlog and workload of the DNA processing of the SBI," Harris said.

Harris is one of several sheriff's deputies who received training on the DNA extraction process at sessions held by the SBI's North Carolina Justice Academy.

"We received a legal update of the procedures for arrestees under the new law, and we pass the information we received along to other officers," Harris said.

Harris has been designated to teach the other deputies how to administer the DNA collection.

Harris said the process of collecting DNA from an individual takes about 15 minutes and will be done once they arrive at the jail where the sealed swab packets will be kept.

From the packet, the officer removes the swab applicator, which is given to the suspect to swab against the inside of his or her cheek seven times.

The swab applicator is then returned to the officer who places it into an evidence bag that is put into a pre-addressed envelope destined for the SBI Crime Lab.

However, once an individual's DNA is put into the SBI database, it is not necessarily there forever.

"Each person is given a copy of the exposition process when their DNA is taken," Harris said. "There is an expunction process for anyone who is found not guilty, if their case is dismissed, or if the case is reduced to a non-DNA sampling offense."