A bill strengthening and modernizing Pennsylvania's use of DNA technology to fight violent crime, sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi (R-9), was overwhelmingly approved by the Senate.
"This bill will make dramatic improvements in how Pennsylvania uses DNA technology to fight crime, to get violent criminals off our streets, and to make our communities safer," Senator Pileggi said. "The evidence is clear, in study after study and case after case: Post-arrest DNA collection saves lives."
Senate Bill 150 will require individuals arrested for serious crimes to submit DNA samples. In addition, the bill establishes privacy protections, an expungement process and new quality controls. It also authorizes a new type of DNA search to help identify suspects in unsolved crimes.
"DNA science has advanced dramatically in the two decades since Pennsylvania's DNA Database was created," Senator Pileggi said. "Since then, the federal government and more than half of the states have improved their DNA collection policies. Pennsylvania has not. It's time for us to take this step."
Senator Pileggi's legislation will:
* Require post-arrest DNA samples from those arrested for serious offenses;
* Explicitly prohibit DNA samples from being used for anything other than legitimate law enforcement identification purposes;
* Establish an expungement process for the DNA records of exonerated individuals;
* Codify accreditation requirements for forensic DNA testing laboratories;
* Require continuing education for forensic DNA testing personnel; and
* Authorize the state police to use modified DNA searches to help investigators identify unknown DNA profiles taken at crime scenes.
Senator Pileggi pointed to studies across the country - including Chicago, Denver and Maryland, all of which were cited by the United State Supreme Court in its recent Maryland v. King decision - showing how effective post-arrest DNA samples can be.
"We also have tragic examples right here in Pennsylvania of how this law will save lives," Senator Pileggi said. He cited the case of the killer known as the Kensington Strangler, who was arrested on felony drug charges in June 2010 - but no DNA sample was taken.
"Later that year, three women were found raped and strangled to death. Numerous others were sexually assaulted but managed to escape their attacker," Senator Pileggi said. "Philadelphia police spent thousands of hours working to solve the case."
Many months later, the man pled guilty to the felony drug charge and - because Pennsylvania's current law does require post-conviction DNA samples - his DNA was collected. When it was processed, investigators found the match they were looking for. Since then, the man has been convicted of the three murders and numerous other crimes. He was sentenced to three consecutive life sentences.
"It's a needless tragedy that so many of his crimes could have been prevented - if Pennsylvania had this law in place," Senator Pileggi said.
Senate Bill 150 is supported by the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape, the Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association, the Pennsylvania Chiefs of Police Association, the Pennsylvania State Troopers Association, the Pennsylvania State Lodge of the Fraternal Order of Police, and the national organization DNA Saves.
The legislation now moves to the House for consideration.