State Rep. Lee Denney hopes to use an interim study to educate lawmakers on the role expanded DNA testing can play in taking criminals off the street and in helping prevent innocent people from being placed behind bars.
For the last several years, Denney has backed measures aimed at forcing people arrested for serious crimes to submit DNA samples for a law enforcement database.
Current law requires people to submit such samples, but only after they have been convicted. So far, the Cushing Republican has been unsuccessful in her proposals to collect these samples after arrest but before conviction. The samples are obtained through blood or saliva.
This is one of dozens of topics that have been suggested for study during the interim period between legislative sessions. House Speaker Jeff Hickman is to announce later this week which House studies will be conducted.
Denney said prosecutors and police have supported her efforts and about two-dozen states already have such laws, but, so far, Oklahoma legislators concerned about privacy rights have killed her proposals.
Although DNA tests are not routinely performed after arrest in Oklahoma, prosecutors can obtain a DNA sample from a defendant through a search warrant approved by a judge.
“I think there’s a lot of people out there that are repeat offenders,” Denney said. “Right now, DNA is collected from people once they are convicted and incarcerated. If we could capture DNA earlier in the process, we could stop future crimes committed by people who are habitual offenders, and we could exonerate the innocent.”
She said that since there does not appear to be legislative support to collect DNA immediately after arrest, she is considering a revised plan to get the sample after someone is ordered to trial following a preliminary hearing.
Denney is concerned about 85 percent crimes, or the most serious felonies, those requiring convicts to stay in prison until they have served 85 percent of their sentence.
“Usually no fingerprints are found at these 85 percent crimes, like murder, rape, crimes against children,” she said. “When victims fight back, they get skin and hair under their fingernails and this has the perpetrator’s DNA.”
She said her proposals have carried provisions to remove the DNA information from the database in cases where the accused person is exonerated. Last year, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that DNA testing is permitted after a person has been arrested in connection with a serious crime.
Rep. Jerry McPeak, D-Warner, has been one of the chief opponents of Denney’s DNA proposals.
“Can you search a man’s house without a search warrant?” McPeak asked. “Then why in the world would you search a man’s body without a search warrant. Does that make any sense at all?”
“And yet, time after time, she (Denney) runs a bill that requires less stringent safeguards than we have for searching a house. And the Republicans want to talk about freedom and you’re going to let the government come and take your personal private body property without any kind of mandate from the judicial system?”