A DNA sampling bill introduced by North Bergen Mayor and State Sen. Nicholas Sacco (D-32) is currently pending review by the Senate Public Safety committee.
The bill, S-436, was introduced last month by Sacco and Sen. Paul Sarlo (D-36) in a continued effort to expand existing legislation requiring those convicted of certain crimes to submit their DNA to a database. The samples contained in a database can be used to match DNA to crime scene evidence to help aid in unsolved crimes.
The new bill would expand the sampling requirement to include samples from disorderly persons offenders and certain violent arrestees.
“DNA sampling is to 21st century police work what fingerprinting was for the 20th century,” said Sacco at the time of the bill’s introduction. “We can quickly and easily obtain a DNA sample and compare it to an electronic database of evidence collected at crime scenes for unsolved crimes committed anywhere in the state. DNA evidence can make the difference between a cold case and a new lead, and we ought to do what we can to improve the effectiveness of this tool.”
“It’s really been the key legislative accomplishment of his career.” – Spokesman Phil Swibinski
Sacco said that a similar bill was also recently signed into law in New York. According to Sacco, he hopes that the DNA database between the two states can be merged to help establish a collaborative crime-solving effort.
“DNA evidence has proven to be an accurate weapon in the war on crime,” said Sacco at the time of the introduction. “By creating an ‘all-crimes’ DNA database in New York and New Jersey, we can lead the nation in this cutting-edge area of criminal justice and crime prevention.”
Sacco initially sponsored an original bill establishing a DNA database at the beginning of his senate career in 1994. The bill, which was signed into law, established the DNA database. Under Sacco’s efforts, the sampling requirement has since been expanded over the years to include sampling from those convicted of crimes of a lesser degree.
“It’s really been the key legislative accomplishment of his career,” said Phil Swibinski, a spokesman for Sacco. “The theory is that the more data you can put in and the more people you can get DNA samples from, the more effective the database is going to be.”
Under current law, adults and juveniles found guilty of a crime of the first, second, third, or fourth degree, or someone who was found not guilty by reason of insanity for any of those crimes, must submit to DNA sampling to be compared against the current database of DNA evidence taken at crime scenes throughout the state. According to Swibinski, those who have their convictions overturned are removed from the database.
A person who refuses to submit a sample is guilty of a crime of the fourth degree, which is punishable by a term of imprisonment of up to 18 months, a fine of up to $10,000, or both.
Swibinski said that sample collection is a “swab,” and is “minimally invasive.”
Sacco’s bills in this area have often been met with outspoken opposition from civil liberties groups. According to Sacco, his bills are often contested by the American Civil Liberties Union.
Some civil liberties groups have charged that DNA sampling is an infringement of civil rights.
“I believe they’re wrong,” said Sacco. “We want to make New Jersey a safer place to live.”
“Enough is enough,” said ACLU Legal Director Ed Barocas, in a release. “By attempting to extend the reach of the DNA Database to cover mere disorderly persons offenses, the legislature is creating significant privacy implications for individuals due to matters that the state of New Jersey does not even consider crimes.“
Other areas of concern for opponents to the bill include a concern over the sample requirement for juveniles and those convicted of a fourth degree crime, which includes shoplifting of a minimum of $200.
“Indeed, under this bill,” said Barocas, “New Jersey residents, including our children, will be subjected to having their DNA collected, categorized, and put into a nationwide database for very minor activity such as a 19-year-old having a beer at a football game, a child who causes $20 worth of damage from graffiti, or a child who hits another child without any injuries occurring.”
Sacco said that only juveniles convicted of major crimes would be entered into the system.
“For a juvenile to get in the database it’s a major crime,” said Sacco. “The juvenile [requirement] is a high standard, [such as] murder or rape.”
“I do recognize how some [opponents] feel,” said Sacco, adding “but I believe that they’re going to find out that after this bill passes that it’s very effective [in tackling unsolved crimes].”
Stephen LaMarca may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.