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DNA Evidence Ruling Boosts Bill to Have Genetic Data Bank

August 17, 1989|DENISE HAMILTON | Times Staff Writer

State legislation that would establish a genetic data bank to track violent criminals received a boost last week when a Ventura judge ruled that DNA "fingerprinting" evidence is admissible in court.

The bill, sponsored by state Sen. Gary K. Hart (D-Santa Barbara), was approved by the Senate on June 27 and will go before an Assembly subcommittee next week.

"We're able to quote from the judge's findings. That definitely doesn't hurt," said Yvonne Campos, a spokeswoman for Hart.

The legislation would require those convicted of violent crimes to submit samples that contain DNA, such as blood and saliva, prior to their release from correctional facilities.

Sex offenders are already subject to this requirement.

Labs to Be Set Up

The bill would appropriate $3 million to set up a central DNA laboratory in conjunction with UC Berkeley and regional laboratories in Los Angeles, Orange and San Diego counties and the San Francisco Bay Area.

Samples taken from criminals would be analyzed for their DNA content, with the information placed in a computer to provide a unique biological profile of each felon. The DNA profile could then be matched with blood, semen or other tissue at crime scenes, allowing law enforcement agencies to identify suspects even in the absence of fingerprints.

Although the Senate approved the bill 37 to 0, civil liberties activists have sounded a cautionary note about the new technology.

"We have fundamental concerns with respect to privacy, how the information is stored and who has access to it," said Francisco Lobaco, a legal advocate for the American Civil Liberties Union in Sacramento.

The ACLU also questioned using a technology that has not yet been upheld by an appellate court.

Scientific Disputes

"Before the state goes out and spends millions of dollars, we should make sure it's reliable. There continue to be scientific disputes," Lobaco said.

In a landmark decision, Ventura Superior Court Judge Lawrence Storch last week ruled that genetic fingerprinting is admissible as evidence in a murder trial.

Though the Ventura ruling does not set a legal precedent, it will be cited by law enforcement officials throughout the state to bolster murder cases, Ventura prosecutors said.

Storch heard technical testimony from 11 experts, including molecular biologists from Yale and Stanford universities. The Ventura County district attorney's office spent 18 months preparing for the case to lay a foundation so that the admissibility of DNA will be unassailable on appeal.

Genetic fingerprinting was developed four years ago in England and is already admissible as evidence in 18 states. Law enforcement officials say the chance of two people having the same DNA pattern is less than one in a billion.

The DNA ruling was the first step in a murder trial against Lynda Axell, 33, of Ventura, who is charged with stabbing 63-year-old George White to death last year at a Ventura hamburger stand.

That trial will resume Monday.

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