SAN FRANCISCO – Attorney General Edmund G. Brown Jr. continued his fight today against an attack on the state’s innovative use of DNA to identify suspects of violent crimes, asserting that “DNA is the fingerprint of the 21st century.”
In an argument before the federal court of appeals in San Francisco, Brown’s office defended the state’s voter-mandated collection of DNA from adults arrested for felonies.
“California is at the forefront of solving crimes through new and innovative uses of DNA technology, and I intend to do everything in my power to defend the state’s ability to reduce crime by collecting DNA from those arrested for felonies,” Brown said. “So far, DNA collected from arrestees has led to the identification of suspects in more than 970 rapes, murders and other very serious crimes,” Brown added.
This case arose when the ACLU filed a lawsuit seeking to stop the state’s DNA arrestee program. The Attorney General prevailed in the United States District Court, and the ACLU appealed to the federal court of appeals.
Samples are taken through a simple procedure using a wooden swab to collect DNA from the inside of a person’s cheek. Strict safeguards ensure that the samples are used only by law enforcement officials to identify an individual and not for any other purpose.
Brown pointed out that about 40 percent of homicides and 60 percent of rapes go unsolved. For example, many of the victims of the Grim Sleeper might still be alive if the suspect had been identified from DNA taken when he was previously arrested.
Collecting DNA samples from those arrested for felonies is a profoundly important way to help solve murders, rapes and other very serious crimes. It should be noted that almost half of those arrested for felonies are repeat offenders.
In 2004, California voters approved Proposition 69, which required law enforcement officers to begin last year taking DNA samples from every adult arrested for a felony.
The program is accomplishing its purpose: identifying criminal suspects. In its first 18 months, DNA collected from arrestees has lead to the identification of 970 suspects of serious felonies. For example:
• DNA collected from Donald Carter, 56, arrested in Sacramento in 2009 on a felony drug charge, was linked to the unsolved 20-year-old murder of Sophie McAllister, 80. Although Carter's drug charge was dismissed, he was later charged with murder and his trial is pending.
• In April 2009, Christopher Rogers, 34, was arrested in Sacramento for assault with a deadly weapon, which was ultimately reduced to a misdemeanor. But his DNA, collected at the time of arrest, was matched to DNA taken at the scene of a 2004 murder in Sacramento. In October, Rogers was arrested and charged with murder. He awaits trial.
• In August 2009, Rene Hernandez, 26, was arrested in Watsonville for felony assault. His DNA was linked to a February 2009 sexual assault of a Watsonville woman, and he was arrested on multiple charges related to that crime. His trial is pending.
• In May 2009, Anthony Vega was arrested in Los Angeles County on felony drug charges, which were later reduced to misdemeanors. His DNA, collected at the time of arrest, was linked to two separate crimes committed in Orange County, a burglary in 2007 and a 2008 armed home invasion robbery. A preliminary hearing is scheduled.
• Earlier this year, Joshua Graham Packer, 20, was arrested in Santa Barbara on armed robbery charges. His DNA was matched to a sample taken at the site of an unsolved 2009 triple murder in Ventura County. He was arrested for that crime in April and charged with murder.
Oral arguments in the case were scheduled today in the Ninth Circuit United States Court of Appeals at Seventh and Mission streets in San Francisco.
Attached are briefs filed in the case. An earlier press release on the DNA felony arrestee program can be found at http://ag.ca.gov/newsalerts/release.php?id=1936&