New law used to find criminals raises concerns about rights

LAS VEGAS -- A law recently went into effect and it could help solve cold cases. However, some say it also violates people's rights.

It is called Brianna's Law. It is named after Brianna Denison, a college student from Reno who was raped and murdered in 2008 by a man who had been arrested before.

Denison's family believes her killer may have been caught sooner or that her life could have been spared, if the killer's DNA had been in the system already.

Before the law went into effect, DNA was collected from convicted offenders. Under the law that went into effect July 1, DNA will also be collected from people who have simply been arrested for a felony, not convicted.

"We approximately get about 5,000 convicted offenders a year. We're going to increase that by another 20,000 samples a year into the lab," forensic lab manager Kellie Gauthier said.

Supporters of the law, like Gauthier, say it has a two-fold purpose.

"To one: Prevent future crimes and for two: To get the individual, the felony arrestee into the database to see if they've committed any other crimes so that the DA's office, the detectives, know if there is additional charges that should be brought," Gauthier said.

However, criminal defense attorney Ozzie Fumo believes this DNA collection is a violation of rights.

"I think it's really the ultimate big brother is watching," Fumo said.

While he says it may be good for cold cases to be solved, the law could create problems.

"People are going to be charged with and maybe convicted of crimes they didn't commit because of problems with the lab. Human error is going be a factor," Fumo said.

The DNA will be collected during booking with a mouth swab. Gauthier says jail workers have been trained, Metro's crime lab has been preparing for the past year, and two forensic scientists were hired to handle the caseload.

The results are entered into a national system and if a sample gets a hit connected to a crime. Another sample is taken to make sure the profile is the same. The DNA samples are stored forever.

Gauthier says it is a good law.

Fumo calls it an illegal search.

If someone is arrested and a judge finds there is no probable cause the suspect's DNA sample is supposed to be tossed out. It doesn't even make it to the lab.

Also, people can try to have their sample tossed out through an expungement process but that involves paperwork and time.

So far, more than 400 samples have been collected in jails in southern Nevada and more than a 100 have made it to the lab already.

It takes time for that DNA to be entered into the system. There are only two crime labs in the state.


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