Krystal Jean Baker Act changes DNA collection law - FOX34 Lubbock

Krystal Jean Baker Act changes DNA collection law

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A recent state law change allows the police to take your DNA upon arrest. That's a big change, meaning even suspects, not convicts are in a nation-wide database.

This law is named after a 13 year old kidnapping victim from 1996. Someone raped and killed Krystal Jean Baker and despite collecting DNA evidence, police couldn't name her killer. Fourteen years later, Louisiana police arrested a man for an unrelated charge and took his DNA. Kevin Edson Smith matched the DNA in Baker's case. He pleaded guilty to her murder.

"He took everything from me when he took my daughter and he took everything from her that day," Krystal Jean Baker's mother Jeanie Escamilla said.

Under the Krystal Jean Baker Act, law enforcement is not required to wait for a conviction to gather DNA. 

"It could be a game changing thing for a number of cases," Assistant District Attorney Barron Slack said.

Instead, it's taken upon arrest for a qualifying felony and put into the Combined DNA Index System, or CODIS. 

"Any time you put people on the streets in charge of determining when someone's private DNA, private data should be selected, obvious concerns," Criminal Defense Attorney Frederick Stangl said.

Stangl said the state could be violating your Fourth Amendment Rights. 

"Officers are out there trying to do the best they can, making judgement calls on the scene, but they're not always right and even if they are right, it's still such a low burder that has to be met, it's very worrysome to me as far as the the true constitutionality of that kind of seizure," Stangl said.

The Act helps to grow the database and makes it easier to get DNA.

"They shouldn't be able to get your blood and your DNA without your consent or without a good reason," Stangl said.

"If it's an unknown, it may help eliminate other suspects or other persons of interest," Slack said.

If a person who has had their DNA taken and is found innocent or the case is dismissed, the state is supposed to destroy the sample, but attorneys urge caution.

"Where that information has been sent to that point, who still maintains custody of it, who might have access to it in the future, that's a problem," Stangl said.

Since September 1, Texas law enforcement agencies have matched more than 45 samples to existing cases in the CODIS system. 

"They're presupposing that people charged with this particular offense are more likely to have committed offenses of a similar type," Stangl said.

"Ten percent of the population commit the crimes, so there is a recidivism rate in the criminal justice system," Deputy Director, Dept. of Public Safety Skylor Hearn said.

Hearn said the goal of the Baker Act is to bring closure to victims and prevent further victimization by an offender that's on the loose.

"It saves months or years potentially for matching an existing case," Hearn said.

Both prosecutors and defense attorneys said they know the risks of gathering this high tech data. 

"With scientific and technical forms of information that can go along with what someone saw, what someone heard, what went on, relationships and things like that, more clarity is always better," Slack said.

"It provides us a lot of ability to access information, but it also provides the ingenious criminal the ability to know what we do and how we do it," Hearn said.

According to the FBI, there are more than 14 million profiles in the National DNA Index. More than 925,000 of those are Texans. Federal Agents credit CODIS with assisting more than 36,000 investigations in Texas. 


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