DNA bill passes panel

Wes Franklin

A bill filed by an area lawmaker requiring violent crime suspects to give DNA samples, even without a conviction, has passed through legislative committee and could soon come up for a vote.

State Rep. Marilyn Ruestman, R-Joplin, is the sponsor of HB 1980, which adds to state statute in requiring all persons at least 17 years of age to produce a biological sample — in this case, a saliva swab — upon arrest or booking for a felony violent crime (including murder and rape), according to the committee version of the bill, which is not yet available on-line.

Current state law only requires biological samples upon conviction. The samples are inventoried into a DNA profile database administered by the Missouri State Highway Patrol.

But the law as it stands now allows for too many potentially violent criminals to get off the hook and hurt people multiple times before they are finally convicted on evidence, Ruestman said. If her bill becomes law, the state would already have the DNA evidence to possibly convict at the time of the second arrest. That’s because the DNA would already be on file from after the first arrest, even if the person wasn’t ultimately found guilty in that particular instance.

A look into Missouri rape crime data is what sparked Ruestman’s bill, the lawmaker indicated.

Quoting state statistics, Ruestman said that repeat rapists could attack eight to 12 victims in their lifetime before being brought to justice by the court system, even if they had been arrested for violent sex crimes but released for lack of valid evidence.

“My thought was if we get this DNA profiling going, this guy is obviously sort of a violent person and we could probably catch them on the second (saliva) swab,” Ruestman said. “Because if we swab them, we’ve got them. That’s instead of waiting until they have raped another victim. We put a pencil to this and figured we could maybe save six victims per rapist if we could catch them on the second time around. Of course, I’d love to be able to catch them even before they offend. And we would have a better chance of doing that if we got them a couple of times for some other violent offense before they moved on into rape.”

There would be very little cost to individual law enforcement agencies, Ruestman said, because the swab kits would be provided by the state. The mouth swab procedure itself takes around three minutes she said, while training lasts about five minutes. All in all, county sheriff and city police departments would be looking at spending roughly an extra $20 per month, according to Ruestman’s estimates.

The biggest challenge on a state level would be providing additional space for the collected DNA samples, she said. But since about 60 percent of violent criminals are repeat offenders, according to national statistics, Ruestman predicted that after the first year’s influx of biological specimens, the numbers would slow down considerably.

HB 1980 passed the Missouri House crime prevention and public safety committee earlier this week. While it’s not currently on the House bill calendar, Ruestman said she’s trying daily to get it squeezed in for floor debate whenever there might be an opening or lull in legislative proceedings. 

“I sit directly in front of the floor (Majority) Leader and every day I say ‘if you’ve got a minute, I’m ready to go with it,’” Ruestman said.

Once her bill is finally on the floor, Ruestman said she believes she can get it passed in the House. Then it would move on to the state Senate, which generally takes a little longer to approve legislation. Ruestman has until May to get her DNA bill passed in both chambers before the session ends.

Ruestman said she anticipates opponents bringing up the issue of privacy when standing in the way of her bill, which catalogues the potentially innocent along with the potentially guilty. But she said there are already some very heavy federal penalties in place for persons responsible for leaking out information on who may have biological specimens in the DNA database.

“So I think we’ve already addressed that federally,” Ruestman said. “And also, as your sort of law enforcement type representative, I’m not real concerned about the privacy of someone who has committed a violent crime.”

Neosho Daily News