Monday, January 25, 2010

Press Release: Rep. Teilhet Fights Repeat Offenders with Expanded DNA Database

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For Immediate Release
Contact: Rob Teilhet

Monday, January 25, 2010
                       404-435-7499

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*Rep. Teilhet Fights Repeat Offenders with Expanded DNA Database*

*Proposes Law to Collect DNA Upon Arrest, Instead of Conviction*


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SMYRNA, GA- Today Representative Rob Teilhet announced he will sponsor the
“Johnia Berry Act,” legislation that will expand the DNA database in Georgia
and prevent repeat felony offenses.  Teilhet was joined by victims of
violent crime from Georgia and surviving family members of murder victims
supporting the bill.  Georgia residents Joan and Michael Berry were in
attendance, whose daughter Johnia was brutally murdered just before
Christmas in 2004.  Her killer’s identity was eventually confirmed through a
forensic DNA match.


Teilhet’s legislation requires anyone arrested for a felony to provide a DNA
sample at the same time that fingerprints and mug shots are taken.  Currently,
Georgia law only requires DNA to be collected upon conviction of certain
felonies.


“DNA evidence is the single best tool law enforcement has to get repeat
offenders off our streets,” said Representative Rob Teilhet.  “An expanded
DNA database would also free people who’ve been wrongly convicted.  This
bill is about making sure that the right people are locked up and prevented
them from hurting someone else.”


Teilhet pointed out that fingerprinting first appeared in the 1800’s, and
that vast advances in technology have allowed DNA evidence to become a far
superior tool for law enforcement in identifying and eliminating suspects.
If passed, the Johnia Berry Act will move Georgia law enforcement into the
21st Century by requiring the collection of DNA upon arrest for felony
crimes.


“DNA evidence is the fingerprint technology of our time,” said Teilhet.  “You
would not drive on our modern interstates in a horse and buggy, and we
cannot expect our hard working law enforcement officers to do their jobs
with a database as limited and outdated as Georgia’s.”


Twenty one states and the federal government have already passed DNA
collection-upon-arrest laws, including Georgia’s neighboring states of
Alabama, Florida, South Carolina and Tennessee.  Furthermore, while 47
states require DNA from all convicted felons, Georgia only collects DNA from
those convicted of certain felonies.


“I applaud Rep. Teilhet for introducing this life-saving legislation,” said
Joan Berry, mother of murder victim Johnia Berry, and Gwinnett County
resident.  “Violent crime investigations should not be hampered by outdated
DNA laws.”


Teilhet’s legislation is supported by Keep Georgia Safe, the Georgia Network
to End Sexual Assault (GNESA), the Surviving Parents Coalition and DNA
Saves.


“A simple cotton swab can be a major crime-fighting tool,” says Gary Martin
Hays, founder and chairman of Keep Georgia Safe.  “Not only could this law
bring repeat violent criminals to justice much quicker, but it works to
exonerate the innocent and protect the citizens of Georgia while helping
reduce costs in the criminal justice system.”


“We have made great strides in decreasing violence against women, but
studies show there is still so much we can do – especially when assisted by
forensic DNA,” said Jennifer Bivins of GNESA.


“If legislators want to make a real commitment to improving public safety in
Georgia, I can think of nothing more important than passing this bill,” said
Jayann Sepich, mother of a 22-year-old murder victim and founder of the
group DNA Saves.



“There is a cost for *not* passing this bill,” said Karen Foster, mother of
an 18-year-old murder victim and chair of the Surviving Parents Coalition.  “It
is a cost that will be paid with lives.”



Studies have shown there is a price for failing to collect DNA upon felony
arrest.  In a study completed by the Chicago Police Department, an
examination of the criminal activities of eight individuals identified 60
violent crimes, including 53 murders and rapes that could have been
prevented if DNA had been collected for a prior felony arrest.  In each
case, the offender had committed violent unsolved crimes that could have
been solved through a DNA match.  Similar studies have been duplicated by
the Governor’s Office of Maryland and the Denver (Colorado) District
Attorney’s Office.

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