Senate set to vote on DNA bill

Hank Hayes • Apr 11, 2007 at 11:48 AM

DNA legislation that could be used one day to identify the killer of college student Johnia Berry is moving forward in the Tennessee General Assembly.

But Berry's killer would have to get arrested for another violent crime after the bill becomes law.

The Tennessee Senate is scheduled today to consider the "Johnia Berry Act of 2007" - a bill calling for DNA samples to be taken from persons booked for "violent felonies" including murders, assaults, rapes and even robbery.

The bill has two powerful Northeast Tennessee Republican sponsors: House GOP Leader Jason Mumpower of Bristol and Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey of Blountville.

Berry, formerly of Bristol, was an East Tennessee State University graduate who moved to Knoxville to enter a master's degree program at the University of Tennessee. On Dec. 6, 2004, someone entered her apartment and brutally stabbed her to death. Her killer is still at large.

"The person who committed this murder has not been caught, but he did leave a little bit of himself behind in the form of DNA that the authorities have and hopefully one day we will see resolution of that case," Mumpower said in presenting an amended version of the bill to the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday. The bill was deferred for one week pending action on the amendments.

All 50 states currently require that convicted sex offenders provide a DNA sample, and states are increasingly expanding these policies to include all felons or many serious felony offenders, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

To date, 44 states require that all convicted felons provide a DNA sample to the state's database. Seven states, including Virginia, also now have laws authorizing DNA sampling of arrestees. DNA databases in all states today are connected to the National DNA Index System, which is run by the FBI for federal and state information sharing.

Under current Tennessee law, anyone convicted of a felony committed on or after July 1, 1998, must provide a DNA sample to authorities.

The Ramsey-Mumpower bill requires that a DNA sample be taken after a determination by a magistrate or grand jury that probable cause exists for an arrest. If the charge which was the basis for the sample being taken is dismissed or the defendant is acquitted, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation would destroy the sample and all other records, according to the bill.

Under legislation pushed by Ramsey and approved last year by the legislature, the TBI received six new positions to reduce an existing backlog in DNA analysis.

According to the TBI, an additional five positions would be required under the current DNA bill to handle the additional workload at a cost to the state of more than $1.2 million.

"If these new positions are not added, the legislation can still be implemented, but the time required for analysis of samples will be longer," said the state's Fiscal Review Office. "By increasing the number of individuals from whom DNA evidence is collected, this bill may have the result of increasing convictions and the indirect impact of increasing state incarceration costs."

For more information go to www.johniaberry.org.

For more about the Ramsey-Mumpower DNA legislation go to www.legislature.state.tn.us and click on "Legislation." The bill's number is HB0867.

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