Virginia DNA database may start including misdemeanors

[5/1/17]  The Virginia State Crime Commission will consider expanding the state DNA database of convicted people by including more misdemeanors.

While a larger database of DNA profiles from offenders would help solve more crimes, further expansion of qualifying crimes raises cost and privacy concerns and is opposed by the ACLU of Virginia and others.

The commission staff will also review the adequacy of current safeguards against the unauthorized collection, retention or dissemination of DNA information collected by authorities and the money required for any additional collecting.

A bill that would have directed the crime commission to study expanding DNA collection did not pass in the General Assembly this year, but the commission’s executive committee decided it wanted to do it anyway.

State Del. Robert B. Bell, R-Albemarle, the chairman of the commission, said, “I’m looking forward to the information our staff assembles as they review what has happened in Virginia and other states.”

Among those in favor of the study are John and Susan Graham, parents of University of Virginia student Hannah Graham, who believe she would not have been murdered had her killer’s DNA been taken following a misdemeanor trespassing conviction in 2010.

Hannah Graham was abducted in Charlottesville and slain by Jesse L. Matthew Jr. in 2014. His DNA from the trespassing conviction would have generated a “hit” in 2010 linking Matthew to a 2005 sexual assault in Fairfax, and he would have presumably been in prison in 2014 instead of killing Graham.

The Grahams and expansion proponents like Albemarle County Sheriff J.E. “Chip” Harding and Commonwealth’s Attorney Robert Tracci say they hope the commission will look at which class one misdemeanor convictions in Virginia — those punishable by up to a year in jail and a fine of $2,500 — make the most sense for requiring samples.

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