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More Iowa offenders required to submit DNA samples

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Investigators hope a new law will help them solve more cold case crimes.

The Des Moines Register reported that an Iowa law will require those convicted of most aggravated misdemeanors to submit DNA samples. A supervisor in the state DNA crime lab said the requirement is expected to double the number of DNA samples collected.

Currently, Iowa only collects DNA from people convicted of felonies and sex crimes, according to the report, but once the law takes effect on July 1, 2014 county jails will have to start collecting samples as well. Most DNA samples are collected at a state prison facility. It’s estimated that local jails will be responsible for collecting about half of the samples.

Polk County Attorney John Sarcone supports the law and expects that it will cause there to be more cases, said the Des Moines Register. Sarcone also believes that as more misdemeanor offenders submit samples prosecutors may use DNA in more low-level cases.

“While it could increase the caseload, it might – because of the DNA – lead to more pleas,” Sarcone said. “It’s difficult to challenge – that it’s not your DNA.”

The American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa pushed for lawmakers to exclude nonviolent offences from being required to submit samples, said the Des Moines Register. The group’s legislative director, Rita Bettis, said the group thinks the law is invasive, unnecessary and expensive.

“We don’t think Iowans want to be creating more bureaucracy and spending significant state money just to collect DNA for low-level offenses,” Bettis said.

Iowa has about 80,000 DNA samples in its database. In 2012 the state collected more than 6,700 samples, which were taken via a swab of the inner cheek as convicts were booked into prison, said the report.

With the new policy, questions are being raised about funding and training for DNA testing, according to the report. When the bill was passed, Legislature did not provide money for the two extra DNA analysts or $80,000 in supplies that was requested by the Division of Criminal Investigation.

In the fall of 2013, jail officers will be trained at the Iowa law enforcement academy, reported the Des Moines Register. Jail Chief Doug Phillips said he was concerned about the costs of having officers collect samples.

“It will be manpower – and labor-intensive,” Phillips said.

County Sheriff Kevin Aistrop said he wouldn’t mind the extra work since the DNA samples will help solve crimes.