PHILADELPHIA—March 18, 2011—-At the request of Senator Larry Farnese, the Pennsylvania Senate Judiciary Committee today held a fact-finding hearing about the backlog of DNA testing and the use of DNA testing in criminal investigations. The hearing focused on finding solutions to reduce the backlog of DNA test results and on a bill that would change when DNA samples would be collected.

Senator Farnese requested the hearing when the backlog came to light after a DNA match resulted in an arrest in the case of the Kensington Strangler in Philadelphia.

“Government’s first duty is to protect its citizens,” said Senator Farnese. “Reducing the backlog means reducing crime, solving more crimes more quickly and also exonerating the innocent. While every dollar counts, we must find a way to provide law enforcement the tools and resources they need to do this.”

DNA samples are currently taken upon conviction of a felony or in some cases, a misdemeanor. The new law would allow DNA to be taken at the time of charging when fingerprints, mug shots and other information are collected. Not only would this expedite the process, but it would provide police with critical information much sooner. The result would be crime prevention, solving cases more quickly and also establishing innocence more quickly.

DNA is taken by swabbing the cheek. Samples are not taken by drawing blood.
Captain Robert Scott, acting director of the Pennsylvania State Bureau of Forensic Sciences, testified that he supported the proposed law. He also testified that it would add approximately 100,000 new cases to the lab, and that funding, equipment, personnel and a larger facility would be required to accommodate the new cases.

Deborah Harley Tierney, Chief of the District Attorney’s Family Violence and Sexual Assault Unit, testified about several cases in which an available DNA sample would have prevented several convicted serial rapists from committing crimes. In these cases, convictions were secured through DNA matches, but many victims would have been spared had a DNA match been available before multiple crimes were committed. The case of Troy Graves, who raped six women and murdered one, was among those she cited. Graves was eventually arrested in Fort Collins, Colorado and is serving multiple life sentences.

Also testifying in support of the new law were Assistant District Attorney Sarah Hart, Joseph Szarka, Manager, Forensic Sciences Bureau; Christopher H. Asplen, a former Bucks County Assistant District Attorney and Assistant U.S. Attorney; Deborah Calhoun, Director, Scientific Services Division, Pennsylvania State Police; Peggy Moody-Kosman, Quality Specialist and Assistant CODIS Administrator at the State Police DNA lab; Jeffrey Zachetti, Supervisor of the DNA Database Section, Pennsylvania State Police.

David H. Kaye, Distinguished Professor of Law and Weiss Family Faculty Scholar Penn State Dickinson School of Law provided written testimony.

“We must give law enforcement every possible tool to protect the public,” said Senator Farnese. “We owe it to the victims of crime and their families as well as to the public at large.”

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