The County Board of Supervisors appears to understand the need for a DNA laboratory in Orange County for police work. Such labs identify people by genetic testing of blood, body fluids and hair. What the board majority doesn't seem to see is the need for taking action to get the lab started now, instead of delaying its opening for months, which risks having criminal suspects freed because vital evidence could not be processed in time.
That happened several months ago when a man charged with the rape of an Anaheim woman was acquitted because crucial DNA evidence that prosecutors insist would have proven his guilt was late in arriving from an overloaded lab in the East. That man now faces another rape charge, this time involving a 12-year-old Huntington Beach girl who was abducted from her home two weeks ago. And Utah police are looking at any link he may have with five sexual assaults on young girls there that occurred after his acquittal on the Anaheim rape.
But instead of voting the immediate county funding sought by Supervisor Harriett M. Wieder and law enforcement officials, the board decided to delay action at least 30 days for a staff report on financing. Some supervisors are also reportedly thinking about using confiscated drug money that federal officials turned over to the sheriff instead of using county funds to set up and run the lab.
The use of the confiscated drug funds for a DNA lab raises legal questions that still must be resolved. The spirit and intent of the law that allows the U.S. attorney general to return seized drug money to local law enforcement agencies has been to help them fight illegal drug use and support new drug-related enforcement efforts--not to offset the budget. Misuse of the money could jeopardize the receipt of forfeiture funds in the future.
The supervisors previously rejected the sheriff's request for $200,000 to set up a DNA lab, so he went to the private sector. The community has shown its support by contributing $80,000 thus far to help start the first DNA lab in the state.
According to proponents of genetic fingerprinting, which uses DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) that carries each person's unique genetic coding, the possibility of two people, other than identical twins, having the same genetic makeup is one in 30 billion. The testing is now routinely used in 30 states and has been used in Ventura County to gain a murder conviction. The Orange County district attorney reports having nine cases where DNA has been essential to proving the case.
If it receives immediate funding, a local DNA lab can be ready to start taking cases by the end of the year. The difference will be results within weeks, not months, at a cost of about $50 a case instead of as much as $1,600.
The U.S. attorney in Los Angeles reportedly is studying whether federal guidelines allow the county to use money confiscated in drug raids for the DNA lab. If such use is deemed improper, the county supervisors should waste no time allocating the $120,000 the sheriff is seeking from the county treasury.