Proposed law would expand DNA collection

MONTPELIER — A pair of senators are looking to pass legislation that would require the collection of DNA samples from people convicted of misdemeanor crimes that carry prison terms after the Vermont Supreme Court found a previous law unconstitutional.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Sen. Dick Sears, D-Bennington, and Senate President Pro Tem John Campbell, D-Windsor, released the bill, S.10, this week, but it has not yet been introduced. The legislation would even require DNA samples from defendants who strike a plea deal for a lesser crime that does not carry a prison term if there was probably cause found for the original charge that qualified for DNA collection.

Sen. Dick Sears

Sen. Dick Sears

Sears said the state previously passed a law that required DNA collection from defendants charged with felonies and some misdemeanor crimes that are considered violent. The bill mimicked a Maryland law that was found constitutional by that state’s Supreme Court.

But the Vermont Supreme Court struck down part of the law here that required DNA samples from defendants in violent misdemeanor cases, even after probable cause was found by a judge. Sears said his new legislation will address that.

Under the legislation, DNA samples would be required “whenever there is jail time associated and you’ve been convicted of that crime,” according to Sears.

“So obviously traffic tickets, even possession of marijuana, small amounts, would not come under it,” he said.

Sears said he agreed with the minority on the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court allowed fingerprinting of defendants but ruled against DNA collection.

“They’re basically saying finger prints are OK, but DNA isn’t. Quite frankly, DNA helps to eliminate suspects as much as it helps to convict people of crimes,” he said. “Making the case that finger prints are less obtrusive than a cotton swab of DNA, is where I was coming down on this.”

The legislation greatly expands the number of crimes that would require submitting a DNA sample by including all misdemeanors that carry prison terms, not just violent misdemeanors and felonies. Sears said he believes expanding the law is appropriate.

“I’m comfortable with that expansion given the fact that you would have to provide finger prints anyway,” he said.

Newly appointed House Judiciary Committee Chairwoman Maxine Grad, D-Moretown, said she Tuesday she had not yet reviewed the bill and declined to comment.

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