Assemblymember Cooper's DNA bill passes through public safety committee

Tue, 04/28/2015 - 2:32pm

Cooper Public Safety Bill Package Moves Forward

SACRAMENTO – Assembly Bill 390, authored by Assemblymember Jim Cooper (D-Elk Grove), was approved on a 5-1 bipartisan today by the Assembly Public Safety Committee. The bill would fix an unintended consequence of Proposition 47 and would allow DNA collection of criminals convicted of crimes that were previously felonies but are now reclassified as misdemeanors.

“DNA evidence is an essential tool for law enforcement to convict the guilty and exonerate the innocent,” said Cooper. “More than 250,000 offenders could now be excluded from the DNA database as a result of Proposition 47,” he added.

“AB 390 would fix an unintended consequence of Proposition 47, will protect the public safety and ensure the ability of law enforcement to connect convicted criminals with their unsolved crimes of the past,” Cooper added.

Proposition 47, The Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Act, approved in November 2014, reclassified as misdemeanors a number of felony crimes including drug offenses, fraud, theft and forgery. The reclassification of felony offenses to misdemeanors will result in a significant reduction of DNA samples collected from offenders and will negatively impact the ability of law enforcement to solve rapes, murders and other serious and violent crimes through reliable DNA evidence.

Prior to Proposition 47, the DNA database was expanding and had tremendous success accurately identifying individuals who have committed prior unsolved murders, rapes, assaults, robberies and other serious and violent crimes while exonerating others. Additionally, the DNA database has ensured the integrity of convictions so that innocent individuals are not needlessly investigated, arrested, prosecuted or convicted. Thirty-two states already collect DNA database samples for various misdemeanor offenses.

In Sacramento County, DNA helped solve a 20-year old murder of an elderly woman.  Sophia McAllister, 80 years old, was brutally raped, robbed and murdered in her home in 1989. The killing went unsolved for 20 years until Donald Carter was arrested in 2009 on an unrelated low level drug possession charge.  A DNA sample was taken and entered into the DNA database resulting in a match with the forensic sample taken at the scene of the murder. A jury found Carter guilty in the murder.

This is just one example of the many cases which have been solved through the DNA database by connecting low level offenders to unsolved crimes of the past.  Under Proposition 47’s reclassification of felonies to misdemeanors, the murder of Sophia McAllister would not have been solved.

AB 390 would enhance current law to include specified misdemeanor convictions subject to DNA sample database collection when such crimes are committed by adult offenders.  Solving rapes, murders, and other serious or violent crimes through reliable DNA evidence will help keep neighborhoods safe from dangerous recidivist offenders who would otherwise remain undetected.

  • Additionally, AB 1227 was approved on a unanimous vote by the Assembly Public Safety Committee. The bill would require the Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) to conduct an adequacy study on training for peace officers covering interaction with individuals with developmental disabilities or mental illness or both. Additionally, the bill requires POST to submit a report of its findings to the Legislature. The bill will provide for an assessment of POST mental health training courses, if they cover all appropriate topics and will identify areas where additional training may be needed.
  • AB 1289 was also unanimously approved by the Public Safety Committee. The bill would task POST with conducting a study of community policing and engagement programs, efforts, strategies, and policies in the state and to provide its findings to the Legislature. AB 1289 helps California take stock of community policing efforts statewide in order to reevaluate, recommit, and renew a focus on sustaining and enhancing trusting community-police relationships with all segments of the community.
  • Finally, AB 1475 was approved unanimously by the Committee. The bill defines and recognizes Sexual Assault Response Teams (SART) in statute. It allows for each county to establish a SART designed to provide a team approach to responding to sexual assaults in the community. Many counties already have SART in their communities and AB 1475 will codify these teams into statute to ensure that sexual assault victims receive comprehensive services. It will also ensure the best possible outcomes for the victim and the criminal justice system, and build community confidence in the local SART intervention system.

AB 390, 1227, 1289 will next be heard by the Assembly Appropriations Committee. AB 1475 will next be heard on the Assembly floor.

Assemblymember Cooper represents the Cities of Sacramento, Elk Grove, Galt and Lodi.