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Davis Signs 2 Key Measures Against Crime

Legislation: One restores the Son of Sam law. Another allows the forcible taking of DNA samples from inmates.

September 18, 2002|CARL INGRAM | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Gov. Gray Davis signed legislation Tuesday to restore the so-called Son of Sam law in California and to authorize the forcible extraction of DNA specimens from prisoners who may have committed other long-unsolved crimes.

"I guarantee you, when we have those samples, a host of crimes will be solved," Davis said as he signed the DNA bill by Senate Republican leader Jim Brulte of Rancho Cucamonga. "It will bring peace of mind and closure to victims."

The governor also signed a bill by Sen. Bruce McPherson (R-Santa Cruz), a candidate for lieutenant governor, that will allow crime victims to sue their attackers in civil court if the felon tries to profit by selling an account of the crime to a book publisher or moviemaker.

Last spring, the state Supreme Court struck down California's Son of Sam law on grounds it was so broad that it violated the free speech rights of convicts.

The new measure (SB 1887) bypasses the 1st Amendment issue. Instead, it is designed to prevent felons from profiting by authorizing their victims to sue for any funds produced by ventures arising out of the crime.

The lawsuits can be filed up to 10 years after a felon finishes parole.

"It's just not right for a criminal to profit from his crime," an emotional McPherson said at a bill-signing ceremony in Los Angeles. His own son, Hunter, 27, was murdered on a San Francisco street in November.

Witnesses at the ceremony included Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca, Orange County Sheriff Michael S. Carona, Dist. Atty. Paul J. Pfingst of San Diego County and victims' rights activists.

The DNA bill (SB 1242) authorizes county jail and state prison authorities to use "reasonable force" to extract DNA samples from criminals who refuse to give them up voluntarily.

Currently, officials must get a court order at a cost of about $15,000 each to forcibly extract a specimen.

The Department of Corrections said there are about 400 such felons in state prisons, down from about 900 earlier in the year.

It is a misdemeanor for a prisoner to refuse to provide a DNA sample from blood and saliva as well as a thumb and palm print. But a misdemeanor conviction has virtually no impact on a convict already serving a long prison sentence, officials say.

Brulte predicted the bill could lead to breakthroughs in potentially thousands of "cold case" crimes that have gone unsolved because prisoners refused to voluntarily provide DNA specimens that could implicate them.

In the last four years, officials say, the state's DNA databank has connected 83 cases of unsolved violent crimes to felons who served time behind bars.

The governor also signed legislation on energy-related issues, including a bill (SB 1269) by Sen. Steve Peace (D-El Cajon) that would try to stabilize the state's electric energy supply by requiring power plant developers to actually build new plants or risk losing their permits.

State officials contend that the power supply has been jeopardized by a speculative market for power plant permits, in which developers buy and sell the licenses without ever building a plant.

The bill will require developers who acquire project permits to begin construction within a year. If a company doesn't begin a project, the state public power authority is authorized to seize the permit and build the plant or seek a private partner to proceed with the project.

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Times staff writer Gregg Jones contributed to this report.

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