March 10, 2011 in City

Idaho criminal DNA database may expand

Mitchell Schmidt Associated Press

BOISE – Idaho lawmakers are considering bringing the state’s criminal DNA database up to speed with the rest of the country by expanding the number of felons whose DNA samples can be added to the network.

The Senate Judiciary and Rules Committee approved a bill Wednesday that would place all convicted felons in the Statewide DNA Index System. The bill, which now moves to the full Senate, would also allow for nationwide access.

Currently, the state database only includes felons convicted of sexual or violent crimes, making Idaho the only state that doesn’t download samples from all felons.

Maj. Ked Wills of the Idaho State Police said the change would improve the database and ideally help detectives in Idaho and other states collaborate on criminal investigations.

“It has proven to be a fantastic tool for law enforcement, even in our own area as late as this month, to solve these previously unsolved crimes,” Wills told the committee.

The upgrade comes with a price tag and means extra work for staff responsible for collecting and downloading DNA samples into the database.

The initial start-up cost is pegged at $750,000 for 2012 to cover new equipment, technology and hiring and training two forensic scientists. Maintaining the program would cost an additional $400,000 annually, according to the bill. The plan is to begin adding additional DNA saliva samples to the database by 2013.

“I understand there is a fiscal note attached but I believe the tool is worth what we put into it,” Wills said.

Wills also said adding more felons to the database has the potential to identify more cases in which someone was convicted of a crime he or she didn’t commit.

Greg Hampikian, professor in biology and criminal justice at Boise State University, said the changes would increase the size of Idaho’s database and help identify criminals in questionable cases, thus proving the innocence of those wrongly convicted.

The DNA profiles are entered into the national database and managed by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and are used to match evidence left at crime scenes. Currently, all states except Idaho collect samples from all felons.

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