The Orange County Board of Supervisors Tuesday voted unanimously to renew the District Attorney’s “spit and acquit” DNA collection program for another year. , even though state or federal authorities can’t use the majority of samples collected.
The total cost in 2011 for that DNA program and two others used by the DA’s office is $1,368,000. District Attorney Tony Rackauckas told the board the program saves money for other agencies, like the Public Defender and Sheriff’s Department, because fewer cases go to trial.
However, most of the DNA taken by the DA’s office can’t be used by federal or state law enforcement agencies, either because it doesn’t meet their standards or because of prohibitions against using the DNA of dismissed misdemeanor suspects.
The Orange County Sheriff’s Department runs a separate DNA laboratory that works with federal and state labs.
In Orange County, people arrested for generally low-level crimes like drunken driving, petty theft and some drug possession cases can pay a $75 fee and have their cases dismissed if they agree to allow technicians swab their mouths for a DNA sample.
Even though the five-member board agreed to continue the program through 2011, Supervisors Pat Bates and Janet Nguyen repeatedly questioned the numbers and financial estimates presented by Rackauckas. Bates asked him to send the board more information on costs and how the money is spent.
Rackauckas said the overall program expects to collect about 2,000 DNA samples a month next year and currently has about 40,000.
Following the vote, Rackauckas said DNA collected through this program has led to 18 “hits” matching a suspect to a crime since in began in 2007.
In addition to “spit and acquit,” the DA’s office has two other DNA programs. Another program, started earlier this year, allows prosecutors to test crime scenes for DNA left behind by suspects.
And under the third program, which is required by state law, prosecutors and defense attorneys can negotiate a plea for the DNA of misdemeanor suspects. That DNA can be used in state databases.
The Rackauckas’ office has justified all of this DNA collecting by citing research showing that 80 percent of all crimes are committed by just 8 percent of repeat offenders. So, the prosecutors say, DNA must be collected from a huge number of people.
The more than $1.3 million would extend the DA’s contract with Virginia-based Bode Technology Group, Inc., for processing the DNA samples through 2011.
— TRACY WOOD
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