DENVER - For years, Colorado's criminal justice system has compelled only those convicted of or arrested on a felony charge to submit their DNA to the state's ever-expanding DNA database. That could change in a big way under a new proposal from Democratic Rep. Dan Pabon of Denver.
Under a plan announced with the help of a number of district attorneys on Tuesday, Colorado would be allowed to collect the DNA profiles of thousands of people convicted of misdemeanors.
"This is not a strike against civil liberties. This is a push toward a safer state," Rep. Pabon said during a news conference held inside Denver's new crime lab.
As of January, the FBI reported Colorado had collected 155,608 DNA samples from defendants in the state. The national DNA database currently has more than 10 million DNA profiles in it. Law enforcement agencies across the country routinely now compare DNA samples left behind at crime scenes to DNA profiles in the database in order to help solve crimes.
In Denver, DNA was instrumental in linking Byron Gay to a number of cold case sex assaults in the 90s. Gay is currently serving a life sentence.
"[DNA] can solve crimes, prevent crimes and help us exonerate the innocent," Rep. Pabon said.
One of the supporters of the proposed legislation is Rebecca Gershten, who was sexually assaulted by one of Denver's most notorious and dangerous serial rapists in 2005. Brent Brents was linked to his crimes with the help of DNA.
"It is my opinion that DNA samples, just like fingerprints, taken from those convicted of misdemeanors will help decrease the rate of crime, link seasoned criminals to other cases, increase convictions, and exonerate innocent people," Gershten said during Tuesday's news conference.
In 2012, Colorado prosecutors charged a number of people with more than 38,000 distinct felonies. Each case brought with it the edict that the person charged needed to give his or her DNA to the state.
That same year, prosecutors secured 42,727 misdemeanor convictions. The bottom line is the new legislation will attempt to vastly increase the size of the state's DNA database.
Rep. Pabon said the new costs would be shared by the criminals through a fee imposed upon conviction.
The Colorado Criminal Defense Bar is aware of the legislation and has yet to take a position on it.
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