DNA Collection Legislation Clears Key Hurdle

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

SACRAMENTO – Assembly Bill 16, authored by Assemblymember Jim Cooper (D-Elk Grove), was approved today by the Assembly Public Safety Committee. The bill would allow the collection of DNA upon conviction of seven specific crimes that were previously felonies but are now misdemeanors.


“I applaud the Assembly Public Safety Committee for recognizing that DNA evidence is an essential tool for law enforcement to convict the guilty and exonerate the innocent,” said Assemblymember Cooper. “It is indisputable that lesser public offenses of fraud, property crime and drug possession are linked to the more serious violent crimes of rape and murder.”


“Bottom-line, AB 16 will help protect women and children and help solve cold cases,” Cooper added.


The Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Act, approved in November 2014, reclassified a number of felony crimes including drug offenses, fraud, theft, and forgery as misdemeanors. The reclassification of felony offenses to misdemeanors has resulted in a significant reduction of DNA samples collected from offenders and has negatively impacted the ability of law enforcement to solve rapes, murders and other serious and violent crimes through reliable DNA evidence.


Since 2014, there has been a projected loss or deficit of approximately 2000 known hits to unknown hits. It is projected that 450 of those are connected to rape or homicide. 


Women are far more likely to be victims of rape and serial rape. According to a 2010 report issued by the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly one in five women report being raped in their lifetime.


On average 78 percent of unsolved rape and murder cases in multiple studies by the California DOJ have been connected to a lower level offense.


DNA helped solve a 43-year old killing of two Yuba County girls. 12-year-old Valerie Lane and 13-year-old Doris Derryberry were last seen on November 11, 1973. The killing went unsolved for four decades until William Lloyd Harbour and Larry Don Patterson were arrested in 2016 on an unrelated charge. Harbour for drug offenses in 1997 and 2003, and Patterson for a 1976 arrest on charges of raping two adult women in Chico, California. In March of 2014, Yuba County investigators reviewed the case for evidence that could be retested with newer technology. California Department of Justice Forensic Labs testing revealed that DNA evidence was matched and identified Harbour and Patterson. Both men were found guilty and sentenced to five years to life in prison.


This is just one example of the many cases which have been solved through the DNA database by connecting low level offenders to unsolved crimes of the past. Under current law, the murder of Doris Derryberry and Valerie Lane would not have been solved.


Solving rapes, murders, and other serious or violent crimes through reliable DNA evidence will help keep neighborhoods safe from dangerous recidivist offenders who would otherwise remain undetected.


AB 16 will be heard by the Legislature in the coming months.