Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Oklahoma Expands DNA Database

A dramatic expansion of the state’s criminal DNA database received a ceremonial bill signing Thursday.
Senate Bill 646, by State Sen. Jonathan Nichols and State Rep. Fred Morgan, requires individuals convicted of a felony crime to submit a DNA sample for inclusion in the state’s database of offenders.
“This legislation will allow us to identify dozens and maybe hundreds of criminals who have committed a wide range of crimes,” said Morgan, R-Oklahoma City. “There are criminals behind bars today who have escaped prosecution for serious crimes — even rape and murder — who will now be identified and convicted.”
“For every conviction on a felon’s rap sheet, there are other, often serious crimes that person committed and avoided prosecution,” said Nichols, R-Norman. “Criminals don’t limit themselves to one or two crimes during their life.”
In 2003, the Oklahoma Criminal Justice Resource Center reported there were 5,168 felons convicted of major crimes who would have been required to submit DNA samples under the provisions of Senate Bill 646.
Oklahoma began requiring offenders convicted of violent or sexual crimes to provide DNA samples in 1996, and expanded the program in 2001 to include offenders convicted of burglary.
Officials have identified more than 70 suspects in unsolved crimes through the use of the database and expect to solve many more thanks to the database expansion authorized in Senate Bill 646.
In one instance, DNA evidence led officials to a suspect in the 1996 rape and murder of Jewell “Juli” Buskin, a University of Oklahoma ballet student. Forensic evidence from the crime was linked to a man already incarcerated in Oklahoma on an unrelated charge. He has since been charged with the crime and prosecutors have announced plans to seek the death penalty if they obtain a conviction.
Morgan said DNA evidence is becoming increasingly pivotal in criminal cases throughout the country, both to convict the guilty and to exonerate those wrongly convicted. However, a large sample base is needed to truly maximize the value of DNA testing to law enforcement agencies.
Thirty-seven states require a DNA sample from all convicted felons, including all states neighboring Oklahoma.
“This program will provide law enforcement with the tools to shut the books on literally hundreds of unsolved crimes as well as more quickly solve crimes as they happen in the future,” Morgan said. “This is one of the most significant improvements in law enforcement since the fingerprint system was developed.”
"This legislation will undoubtedly lead to the capture and conviction of criminals who are committing some of the most horrific crimes against children and others," said Nichols, a former prosecutor. "The question isn't whether we can afford it; the question is how can we not afford to have it."

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Federal Anti-Meth Bill Moves to the Senate

An anti-methamphetamine bill that had languished for weeks in the Senate Judiciary Committee has moved to the full Senate, thanks to an amendment allowing states to continue to impose their own restrictions on cold medicine sales.

The Associated Press reported on July 28 that an amendment from Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) would allow states to adopt their own restrictions on retail sales of medicines containing pseudoephedrine as long as they were at least as restrictive as federal law. Inclusion of the amendment cleared the way for the Judiciary Committee's passage of the bill by voice vote.

"Today is a good day in the fight against methamphetamine," said Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), co-sponsor of the legislation with Sen. Jim Talent (R-Miss.). "We're one step closer to enacting a national meth bill that would put thousands of meth labs out of business."

Under the bill, retailers would have to sell products such as Pfizer Inc.'s Sudafed and Procter & Gamble Co.'s Nyquil, which meth producers can use to cook their drug, from behind a pharmacy counter. In order to buy the products, consumers would have to furnish a photo ID and sign a log. No more than 7.5 grams, about 250 30-milligram pills, could be purchased every 30 days. A computer system would cross-check individuals' purchases at multiple retailers.

The measure would take effect 90 days after its enactment for products in which pseudoephedrine is the only active ingredient. Under an amendment introduced by Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), restrictions for products in which pseudoephedrine is combined with other active ingredients would not take effect until Jan. 1, 2007.

While the Coburn amendment allowed the measure to get out of committee, it also could re-ignite opposition from retailers concerned about differing provisions on cold medicine sales from state to state. The Food Marketing Institute, representing grocery stores and other retailers, has argued that a uniform national regulation is essential to effective enforcement by retailers.