District Attorney Starts Letter-writing Campaign; Lobbies Senate for Passage of Prisoner DNA Bill

For Immediate Release
April 4th, 2002
Contact: DDA Camille Hill: (714) 347-8590
DA Inv. John Santy: (714) 245-8488

District Attorney Starts Letter-writing Campaign; Lobbies Senate for Passage of Prisoner DNA Bill

SANTA ANA — District Attorney Tony Rackauckas has been lobbying members of the state Senate to pass a bill that would authorize prison officials to use reasonable force to obtain DNA samples from inmates who are already required by law to do so, but have refused.  The refusals have resulted in fewer crimes being linked to perpetrators through the state DNA database, thus prolonging the suffering of victims and their families whose crimes remain unsolved.

A law passed in 1998 calls for prisoners convicted of crimes such as sexual assault and murder to provide DNA samples for inclusion in the state DNA database. But so far, more than 900 inmates have refused to comply and prison officials are not requiring them to do so. Instead, the law provides for these violators to be charged with a misdemeanor count of Penal Code Section 298.1, something that is meaningless for inmates on death row or in prison for life.

State Sen. Jim Brulte (R-San Bernardino) and Assembly member Lou Correa (D-Orange) are working with Rackauckas to get a bill passed to remedy this situation.

Senate Bill 1242 would permit prison officials to use “reasonable force” to collect DNA samples from inmates who refuse.  Twelve other states and the federal government have already passed laws that authorize the use of “reasonable force” to collect DNA samples.

“The way this law is being carried out places all the power in the hands of the inmates,” Rackauckas said. “I’m tired of victims having to overcome hurdles in order to obtain justice. If someone sitting on death row has committed other murders, by all means let’s solve those cases so the family members of victims can get on with their lives.”

Rackauckas has assigned a deputy district attorney, a staff analyst and an investigator to work on this bill. The team aided by Brulte and Correa in drafting the measure. They have also initiated a letter-writing campaign by victim rights organizations and law enforcement to the members of the Senate Public Safety Committee, who will hear the bill on April 9.  The team has been conferring with senators and their staff in an effort to move the bill out of the Public Safety Committee so that it can eventually be heard on the Senate floor.

Several co-authors have also signed on: Assembly members Charlene Zettel and Jay La Seur of San Diego and Senators Jackie Speier and Bruce McPherson of Northern California.

“This bill to allow reasonable force is a bipartisan effort to bring common sense to the DNA collection process and needed closure to thousands of victims and their surviving loved ones,” Brulte said. “I’m absolutely convinced that if every member of the Legislature has a chance to vote on this bill, it will be overwhelmingly passed in both the Senate and Assembly.”

Currently, 167,000 DNA profiles are included in the state DNA database, resulting in 83 “hits” to suspects of violent crimes. An additional 25,000 DNA profiles — including those of inmates who have refused to provide samples — have yet to be collected. Undoubtedly, inmates are being paroled before their blood samples can be drawn.

“We have proven that the state DNA database works to solve crimes and bring closure to victims,” Correa said. “But inmate refusals are impairing our ability to solve past and future crimes. We must make every effort to ensure that convicted felons, by their refusals, do not continue to make the state prison system a sanctuary for murderers and rapists.”

Rackauckas believes that the goals of solving crimes, implicating the guilty and exonerating the innocent will be expeditiously achieved by the passage of Senate Bill 1242.

“Law enforcement needs this legislation to identify suspects responsible for past and future crimes,” he said.