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Meir Rinde

 

DNA sampling added to felony sentences

 

By Meir Rinde

Staff Writer

November, 2003

  

Opening someone else's mail. Catching lobsters at night. Committing murder.

All are felony charges and a conviction will soon add an extra weight to a criminal's sentence — a blood test or cheek swab to reveal the felon's DNA, in hopes the unique genetic code will become a confession of sorts for any number of the state's unsolved crimes.

Gov. Mitt Romney is expected to sign a bill into law today requiring those convicted of either a violent and nonviolent felony to submit DNA to a statewide database. The purpose is to give law enforcement officials and prosecutors another tool to make sure offenders are punished for their crimes, police departments say.

“Anything that helps identify people involved in serious crime is a terrific tool,” said Lawrence Police Chief John J. Romero. “For future cases as well as for cases that happened in the past, it's certainly going to be very useful.”

The state already has 20,000 DNA submissions on file under an older law ordering samples from those criminals convicted of violent offenses, such as murder, rape, kidnapping and armed robbery. The bill signed today expands the sampling to all convicted felons, including those found guilty of nonviolent crimes such as nocturnal clamming or lobster trapping, opening someone else's mail or forging a check.

The submission of DNA for those convicted of nonviolent felonies has drawn criticism from those who say it is an unnecessary invasion of privacy. But Romero rejected those arguments, saying only people who have committed other crimes need to be worried about having their DNA on file.

“If you're not likely to commit a crime, then what would be your concern that your DNA is in the database?” he said. “It wouldn't bother me, because I don't intend to expect ever to be involved in a crime.”

Andover police Lt. William MacKenzie echoed Romero's support for the law, but said he wanted to make sure it passed legal muster. He also noted that DNA evidence does not always indicate guilt, but can give police important leads during an investigation.

“Just because someone's DNA sample is at a crime scene doesn't mean they've committed a crime,” MacKenzie said. “It's just another tool we have to at least put a spotlight on somebody. Anything we can use to convict anybody, or to catch them for any violent crime would be great.”

Having a larger DNA database will make it easier to solve crimes which lack other evidence, North Andover police Lt. Paul Gallagher said. North Andover detectives have undergone training in collecting DNA and expect to start adding genetic swabs to the evidence that they collect from crime scenes, he said.

“We'll have even more evidence to complete the investigation of a case,” Gallagher said. “It's fantastic for law enforcement and for victims.”

The law will immediately double the size of state's DNA database, which will continue to grow as more people are convicted of felonies. It will cost about $3.6 million annually to maintain.

Staff writer Meir Rinde may be contacted by phone at (978) 946-2000, or by e-mail at mrinde@eagletribune.com.