The State Legislature’s budget-writing committee took up the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) budget on May 23rd and approved the Department’s proposal to enhance DNA collection on a bipartisan 13-3 vote. Support for this effort has continued to grow in Wisconsin as we seek to join 26 other states and the federal government in collecting DNA profiles from offenders arrested on felony charges. The Department’s proposal also seeks to obtain DNA profiles from those convicted of misdemeanors.
Enhancing DNA collection at the time of felony arrest is a measure I have championed in prior legislative sessions and has been advanced this session in the state budget by Governor Walker and Attorney General Van Hollen. DNA profiles are the new fingerprint of the 21st century and, if enacted, this initiative would enable law enforcement to build upon Wisconsin’s DNA databank of convicted felons that has produced over 4000 matches of crime scene evidence with offenders. I am pleased that the budget-writing committee recognized the value of expanding this important public safety resource in an effort to achieve the positive results seen in other states.
Empirical studies and anecdotal evidence demonstrate that enhanced DNA collection helps catch career criminals and saves lives. One such example is a case study of eight career criminals in Chicago. After reviewing the criminal histories of these offenders, researchers found that collecting DNA profiles at felony arrest would have prevented these eight criminals from committing 60 violent crimes, including 53 murders and rapes.
Utilizing the technological advances in DNA also saves taxpayer dollars by reducing investigation, prosecution, and court costs. In addition to providing law enforcement with a valuable crime-fighting tool, we have seen the importance of DNA matches in exonerating the wrongly accused and providing relief to victims and their families. Just this week a Winnebago County judge vacated a man’s 102 year sentence for rape following new DNA evidence indicating another individual may be the offender.
The proposal includes a mechanism, similar to the process currently in state law for fingerprints, to expunge DNA profiles of those found not guilty or that have charges dismissed. This process was improved by the budget-writing committee to require defendants to be notified by circuit courts of their right to seek expungement.
Earlier this year, the U.S. Congress enacted legislation with bipartisan support that provides financial assistance to states that put into place enhanced DNA collection measures. The action this week by the budget-writing committee allows the Wisconsin Department of Justice to be eligible and apply for these grants to offset costs. The prudent and cost-effective proposal developed by DOJ would not use taxpayer dollars to implement this program, but would utilize offender surcharges, federal grants, and existing resources.
Please feel free to contact me on the budget committee’s action on this or any other issue by calling my office at 1-800-862-1092 or 608-266-7745 or sending me an e-mail at Sen.Harsdorf@legis.wi.gov.