Senate discusses DNA tests for felons

Thursday, February 5, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 6:55 p.m. CDT, Wednesday, July 9, 2008

JEFFERSON CITY — All convicted felons in Missouri would have DNA tests on file under a proposal discussed in the Missouri Senate on Wednesday.

The bill would also compensate individuals cleared of a crime because of DNA evidence and released from prison.

The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Matt Bartle, R-Jackson County, said law enforcement would be much more likely to find a match in the FBI’s Combined DNA Index System database in the future if DNA from all previous convicted felons and sex offenders were on file.

“A fairly high percentage of that population will commit crimes in our state in the future,” he said.

Currently, only those convicted of violent or sex offense felonies are tested.

Saliva swab used for DNA tests

He said the DNA saliva swab tests would cost about $35 each, including analysis costs. Proponents say that fines for felonies, misdemeanors and traffic-related offenses would help cover the costs.

Although formal estimates are unavailable, Bartle said he expects the testing to result in little or no additional cost to the state for the first year. He said once the backlog of individuals in prison and on parole or probation are tested the program could generate revenue.

Bartle also said the federal government may offer grant money to states for DNA testing because it would expand the database information, which federal agencies use as well. However, Bartle isn’t counting on federal money as he figures the current cost to the state.

Provision offers money to those cleared by DNA evidence

Another provision would give $12,000 to individuals cleared of a crime based on DNA evidence and released from prison. Bartle said the state currently does not compensate these individuals.

“They are released back on the streets with nothing after being obviously wrongly convicted,” he said.

Bartle has heard there are less than 100 individuals a year in this situation, so he doesn’t expect it to have a huge financial impact on the state.

Sen. Pat Dougherty, D-St. Louis City, questioned whether $12,000 was enough compensation for people who may have spent eight years of their life in prison but done nothing wrong.

On the Senate floor Daugherty and Bartle discussed the possibility of changing the compensation to reflect the poverty level for each year a person was wrongly incarcerated. Dougherty said this would result in about $8,900 annually at current levels.

Bartle said he wants to see Dougherty’s proposal before taking a definitive stand on it. He said the amount must be clearly set so that individuals can get the money without going through lawyers and the courts again. Bartle also said the fiscal impact on the state should be kept minimal.

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