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Australia Police move to widen DNA net

Herald Sun | September 3, 2007
Geoff Wilkinson

POLICE want the power to take DNA from more suspects and keep it indefinitely, even in the absence of charges or convictions.

Under a Victoria Police proposal, samples could be taken from suspects even without crime scene material to match it to.

And by widening the range of offences for which DNA could be taken, tens of thousands more samples would be added to the state's database.

DNA law reforms were promised by the Government during its election campaign last year.

NSW recently decided to allow its police to demand DNA from suspects arrested for any offence.

Victoria Police's preferred option is one of three alternatives in a report on proposed reforms.

The report says a recent meeting of the Government's justice statement advisory group and other interested parties resulted in majority support for:

PROVIDING that a person being DNA-tested also be fingerprinted.

ALLOWING covert sampling.

LIMITED group sampling.

SIMPLIFYING laws covering volunteer samples, which would be excluded from the database.

ALLOWING the coroner to take samples from dead offenders or suspects.

Court statistics in the report suggest more than 25,000 extra samples could have been taken in the last three years if theft had been added to offences covered by DNA laws. Including deception and handling stolen goods would have added another 12,000.

Under existing law, such summary offences are not "forensic sample crimes". Police can only take samples from those they reasonably believe have committed a serious crime such as murder, sex offences, assault, armed robbery, burglary and drug offences.

There must also be relevant forensic crime scene material.

A court order is needed to retain a sample even after a finding of guilt, and samples must be destroyed within a month of an acquittal and within a year if the suspect is not charged.

The State Government pledged to broaden the range of "forensic sample crimes" to include most indictable offences, and to reduce the threshold test to a reasonable suspicion.

It also pledged to extend the period for retaining samples.

Police would also like the right to take DNA samples, photos and fingerprints from suspects at the same time to improve the quality and integrity of the database.

Victoria's database holds almost 18,000 known offender profiles and it will soon access more than 200,000 from interstate via a national database. More than 17,000 unmatched crime scene samples are also recorded.

Statistics from Britain, which has the world's biggest DNA database with more than 3.1 million samples, reveal that 25 per cent of adult males and 7 per cent of women will eventually be on it.

British police have had considerable success solving "cold case" murders and rapes through DNA.

Samples there can be held indefinitely, and figures show a 45 per cent chance that a crime scene sample will produce a match with a recorded profile.

A spokeswoman for Attorney-General Rob Hulls said the Government was resolved to make changes but could not say when.

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