Law Enforcement Testifies Before Senate Committee on Prisoner DNA Bill — Passage Appears Likely

For Immediate Release
April 9th, 2002
Contact: Tori Richards
(714) 347-8405

Law Enforcement Testifies Before Senate Committee on Prisoner DNA Bill — Passage Appears Likely

SACRAMENTO — Prosecutors, legislators and victims’ rights groups testified before a Senate committee today, urging the lawmakers to pass a bill that would require prison guards to use reasonable force to obtain DNA samples from inmates.

The Senate Public Safety Committee told proponents to come back on April 23 with amendments to the bill that would clarify the definition of “reasonable force” and soften a liability clause that gives guards immunity from civil or criminal prosecution.

Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas has been lobbying the committee to pass Senate Bill 1242 along with state Sen. Jim Brulte (R-San Bernardino) and Assembly member Lou Correa (D-Orange), who are the authors.

Today, the ACLU and defense attorney groups testified against the bill while prosecutors from six different counties and victims’ rights representatives such as the parents of Polly Klaas argued for passage.

“This is good news for law enforcement and especially victims — we had an uphill battle going in there and now it looks like the senators are willing to work with us,” Rackauckas said. “If we can iron out the language, the bill appears likely to pass. This means we could solve old murders and rapes — some going back decades. These cases are never closed. We have a string of unsolved murders which were committed by an Orange County serial killer who could be in state prison.”

An Orange County sheriff’s detective has linked 10 murders to the same suspect and six of those murders contain the same suspect DNA. When DA Investigator John Santy tried to get a DNA sample 16 months ago from Pelican Bay inmate Paul “Cornfed” Schneider, he was rebuffed. Schneider is serving life in prison for attempted murder and detectives would like to identify or eliminate him as the perpetrator.

“The prison system has made me jump through hoops,” Santy said. “They told me to get a court order, which I did over a year ago. They still haven’t provided the sample.”

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 that is meaningless to someone on death row or in prison for life.