2013 Legislature
3:24 pm
Thu March 21, 2013

Bill Includes Some Misdemeanor Arrests in Criminal DNA Database

Texas lawmakers say criminals are leaving more than fingerprints behind at crime scenes.

Today, representatives discussed a bill that would allow police across the state to take swabs of DNA from arrestees accused of a Class B misdemeanor or above. That genetic information would then be archived in a database and the swab would be destroyed.

Committee member Rep. Tim Kleinschidt, R-Richmond, expressed concern that the bill would allow police to take suspects’ DNA before they had been convicted of a crime.

“In essence what we have here is we’ve got samples being taken from people that could be innocent,” Rep. Kleinschmidt says. “Yet they’re going to be a part of a DNA base before they’re convicted.”

Kleinschmidt – an attorney by trade – also expressed concern over the minimum requirement for drawing the DNA from suspects. Kleinschmidt says that someone accused of a a Class B misdemeanor – like breaking and entering – doesn’t necessarily have to be lumped in with those accused of more violent crimes.

Rep. Kenneth Sheets, R-Dallas, argued that the bill’s use of genetic information is no different than taking a suspect’s fingerprints upon arrest.

“If the current jurisprudence of this country says that collection of fingerprints is permissible, that it’s not undue search or seizure or it’s not an invasion of property, what makes DNA different?” Sheets asked.

District Attorney Cheryl Lieck with Chambers County outside of Houston, says this bill would catch violent offenders more quickly.

“I cannot tell you how many times we’ve had murder warrants out for people and, because criminals … usually do mess up, they get arrested on a Class C traffic charge,” Lieck says.

Lieck says the law would have helped the county catch Kevin Edison Smith, who was convicted last year of murdering a Texas City teen in 1996. Lieck says that Smith was in court at least two times in Texas before he was finally arrested in Louisiana, which has a similar law.

“I can tell you without a doubt, without question and without hesitation that criminals, even violent criminals, don’t just commit one type of crime,” Lieck says. “They run the gamut of criminal activity.”

The state estimates that the database would increase DNA testing in Texas by 670 percent and would require at least 80 full time employees. Twenty-eight other states currently have similar databases.