The state of Virginia already requires crime suspects to offer DNA samples in the case of felony convictions, murder charges, voluntary manslaughter, kidnapping, mob-related felonies, assault, bodily wounding, sexual assault, burglary, robbery, arson, sexual abuse of a child, breaking and entering with an intent to commit a crime as well as misdemeanors. However, state lawmakers now desire to expand that list. As Virginia broadens the list of DNA-requiring offenses, citizens continue to be critical about the many missed opportunities when a lack of forensic match resulted in a delay or even a lack of conviction.
The matter received even more attention recently, when Jesse Matthew Jr. couldn’t be connected to the case of the two women who had been sexually assaulted in Virginia because the police hadn’t charged him and did not collect DNA samples. Curiously enough, authorities had collected crime-scene DNA evidence in other cases, such as the case of Morgan Harrington, whose body was discovered in 2009 in Albemarle County, but could not make the connection to a suspect despite the state’s databank of felon-DNA. Even when Matthew was convicted in 2010 for trespassing, his DNA was not collected because trespassing is not on the list of DNA-requiring offenses. It was only last year that Matthew’s DNA was finally collected when he was connected to Hannah Graham’s disappearance. Graham’s body was discovered just miles away from the place where Harrington’s body was discovered just five years earlier. With the help of this DNA sample, Matthew was connected to both Harrington’s death and a 2005 sexual assault case in Fairfax County.
That’s precisely the reason why the General Assembly is now deciding on whether DNA samples will be required in the future in more cases than the legislation currently dictates.
“In Hannah’s case, if Jesse Matthew is in fact guilty, she would be alive today if we could have legally taken his DNA in that previous conviction,”
the Albemarle County Sheriff stated.
This new legislation has large numbers of supporters, Graham’s father and Harrington’s mother included. They insist that the technology exists, so it should be used to its fullest.
There are, of course, those who are criticizing this initiative. According to American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia executive director, Claire Guthrie Gastanaga, such an expansion significantly exacerbates racial disparities and also raises concerns regarding privacy. Gastanaga believes that there is no fairness in imposing DNA testing on all those who commit minor crimes.
“Who knows how DNA in a data bank could be used in the future? Gathering up everyone with a certain marker? Predicting dangerousness, mental illness, disease?”
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