A new Virginia law requiring people accused of violent crimes to submit DNA samples has generated clues to 21 unsolved criminal cases, including one killing and at least three rapes, the Washington Post reports. Law enforcement officials said the “cold hits” show that the six-month-old system is working. They say expansion of the state’s genetic database is helping police track down criminals more quickly and rule out suspects who are innocent. Fairfax County, Va., police this month charged an Annandale man with indecent exposure based on a match in the new system. And Richmond police said a genetic fingerprint of a new arrestee linked him to a beer can found at the scene of a fatal shooting.
Some civil liberties groups and defense attorneys argue that Virginia is going too far by collecting genetic samples from people who are presumed innocent. The state office of the American Civil Liberties Union has found “no solid legal argument” to challenge it.
All 50 states have databases of DNA samples from convicted felons, but Virginia was the first to begin mandatory testing of those arrested. Louisiana recently began collecting DNA of people arrested for some serious crimes. Texas collects genetic samples from people who are indicted for certain serious crimes.
Since January, Virginia has added a simple step to the routine of processing arrestees. In addition to rolling fingerprints and snapping a photograph, officers run a sterile swab along the inside of a suspect’s cheek. It takes only a few seconds. As of July 1, Virginia had collected DNA samples from 3,929 people who were charged with serious crimes. About 23 percent, or 902 of those genetic profiles, have since been destroyed. The law mandates that a sample must be expunged if the accused person is acquitted or convicted of a lesser misdemeanor. Virginia’s DNA database, the largest in the country, was started in 1989 and includes samples from more than 190,000 convicted felons. As of May, cold hits from the databank have helped police solve more than 100 homicides and more than 250 sex crimes.