Utah legislators advance bill to allow DNA sampling at time of booking
A bill that would allow law-enforcement agencies to collect DNA samples at the time of booking for those arrested on a felony moved forward with unanimous support in an emotional House committee hearing Monday.
HB212 sponsor, Rep. Steve Eliason, R-Sandy, showcased witness testimony from law-enforcement agents, forensic biologists, and crime victims, including Ed Smart and two daughters of Danielle Omer, a Utah woman who was raped and murdered in 1999.
“It goes without saying the horrific and terrible events surrounding the death of our mother changed our lives forever,” Omer’s daughter, Rebecca Barrow said in the hearing. “Words are inadequate to explain the anguish and the terror in the weeks we spent wondering where the man was, who he was, and if he would ever be caught.”
Barrow and her sister, Stephanie Omer, said the DNA and technology used to identify their mother’s killer — who was convicted and sentenced to life without parole in 2002 — was important to put their minds at rest.
Ed Smart, father of rape and kidnapping victim Elizabeth Smart, also testified on behalf “of all those voices who aren’t able to,” he said. Elizabeth, who was abducted from her home and held in captivity by Brian Mitchell for nine months, was found in 2003.
“We have Elizabeth back and we feel so fortunate that she is back,” Smart said in an interview with The Tribune. “We feel so blessed to have her home that we need to do everything we can to help those who haven’t had resolution and to stop the next Brian Mitchell from hurting someone.”
The committee expressed overwhelming support for the bill and gratitude to the witnesses for their emotional testimonies.
Eliason says DNA sampling is the 21st Century version of fingerprinting and would aid criminal investigations greatly. It would also reduce racial bias, prevent potential crimes by finding perpetrators early and also help exonerate those falsely imprisoned, he said.
Liberal and conservative groups resisted an original draft of Eliason’s bill discussed last fall because it extended the collection of DNA samples to persons arrested for class A misdemeanors. Critics also had concerns with Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable search and seizure. No one on Monday spoke against Eliason’s revised version of HB212, applying only to persons arrested on felony charges.
If HB212 becomes law, DNA sampling at the time of booking could take place as early as May 2014 but would not be required of law enforcement agencies until Jan. 1, 2015.