Preserve good sense with DNA evidence

The Colorado Senate appears poised to pass legislation sponsored by Rep. Steve King, R-Grand Junction, that would establish a reasonable approach to preserving DNA evidence in this state.

House Bill 1121 has already been approved by the House and the Senate Judiciary Committee. It would eliminate the need for police and sheriff’s departments to retain DNA evidence for any misdemeanors except for sex offenses. For most felony cases, except murder and sex offenses, the bill establishes a streamlined procedure for a judge to order the disposal of DNA evidence.

For instance, if there is no dispute about the identity of a defendant in a felony case, or if the defendant has pleaded guilty and cannot appeal, law enforcement authorities could ask a judge to dispose of the DNA evidence. The defendant would have to be notified, as would the district attorney, and both would have the right to oppose the disposal. But if neither did so, the judge could authorize the disposal of DNA evidence without holding a hearing.

The defendant would also have the right to ask a judge to order the disposal of DNA evidence from his or her case. So would crime victims, in certain circumstances.

There is no question that DNA evidence, when it exists, is invaluable in the solving of crimes.

Furthermore, it has helped many wrongly accused crime suspects and convicted criminals prove their innocence. Where necessary, it should be carefully maintained and protected by law enforcement, in the event questions about a case arise in the future.

But the identity of criminals is not in doubt in every case. And maintaining DNA evidence in perpetuity can be costly and difficult for law enforcement agencies.

A bill adopted by the Colorado Legislature last year requires the preservation of DNA evidence for virtually every criminal case for the life of the defendant or until the statute of limitations has expired. A judge can authorize the disposal of DNA evidence under that law, but only through a much more cumbersome hearing process than King’s bill allows.

There is no estimate of how much law enforcement agencies will spend in coming years to meet all the requirements of last year’s bill, but the state’s Legislative Council said they will realize savings if King’s bill passes.

The Senate could take up HB 1121 some time this week. We hope senators adopt it. King’s legislation brings much-needed common sense to the preservation of DNA evidence at a time when many law enforcement agencies are struggling with budget cutbacks.


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