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Proposal would collect DNA in misdemeanor cases

Published On: May 24 2013 08:56:33 PM CDT   Updated On: May 25 2013 02:10:13 PM CDT

wiseye.org

Sen. Jennifer Shilling

MADISON, Wis. -

Joint Finance leaders passed a Department of Justice proposal on Friday that changes current DNA testing requirements for criminals to include anyone arrested for a felony and all misdemeanor convictions.

Currently, Wisconsin collects DNA samples from people convicted of a felony and certain misdemeanors.  If passed, the change could mean adding approximately 68,000 people to the law-enforcement system's DNA database in the first year it in effect.

 The proposal also says if someone's charge is reversed or they are not guilty of the related crime within a yea,r they may request to have their sample expunged.

The American Civil Liberties Union said the measure violates people's rights and the expungement clause is bogus since the damage will already have been done.

"It has marginal benefits to law enforcement and it treats people who have not been convicted of crimes as suspects for every crime where there's DNA evidence in the country," said Chris Ahmuty, executive director of ACLU of Wisconsin.

He said the money should be put toward efforts to improve forensics work.

Wisconsin's Department of Justice said the benefits of the expansion is worth the $6 million it is estimated to cost.  David Zibolski, deputy administrator of the Department of Justice's Division of Law Enforcement Services said money would come from a current surcharge paid by convicted felons and a new charge to be paid by misdemeanor convicts.

"We'll be able to identify more offenders before they recommit other violent crimes; for the citizens that's beneficial.  We can prevent victimization," said Zibolski.

Dane County Sheriff Dave Mahoney said adding to the current database can only help close cases that have gone cold, particularly those involving homicide and sexual assault.

The measure hits close to home for some Wisconsin families.

Parents of former University of Wisconsin-Madison student Brittany Zimmermann have pushed to expand DNA testing for years.  Five years after their daughter was killed, they still have no idea who did it.

State Sen. Jennifer Shilling of La Crosse gave a tearful plea during Thursday night's Joint Finance meeting.  Her parents were killed 20 years ago in suburban Chicago, and she credited improved DNA testing for finding their killer years after their deaths.

"To know there is a database bank of DNA it gives survivors, I hate to be called a victim, it gives survivors hope.  It gives victims' families hope," said Shilling Thursday night.

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