Ruestman: DNA bill would save lives, tax dollars

Brennan Stebbins

State Rep. Marilyn Ruestman (R-Joplin) had a powerful ally on her side during a committee hearing for her DNA bill.

A New Mexico woman whose daughter was murdered five years ago gave moving testimony to the House Judiciary committee and said her daughter might still be alive if Ruestman’s bill had been in effect in that state.

“Her testimony was heart-wrenching,” Ruestman said. “She’s lost a beautiful, vivacious, college-age daughter. She believes in this bill, has done a lot of work on it and has helped us with our research.”

Ruestman said the bill, HB 152, would require a DNA swab of the mouth upon arrest for a violent crimes and burglaries.

“I really think we’ve done our homework on this,” Ruestman said, “and that it’s a good law that could save lives.”

The bill originally required a DNA sample after a burglary arrest, and came with a total price tag of around $900,000 per year, so Ruestman removed burglary from the legislation and cut the cost in half. She then learned, however, that around 55 percent of DNA swab matches of violent criminals are swabbed after burglaries, so that crime went back into the bill, but she believes the law could eventually be profitable for the state.

“Our estimates show that 60 percent of these people are repeat offenders, so at the end of one year we could reduce the cost of these swabs probably in half because we’re already going to have them,” she said.

A federal grant could also be used to help with the cost of obtaining the DNA samples and maintaining the database.

“The grant, we believe, is very accessible,” Ruestman said.

She said after the first year the cost should be around $250,000, but within three of four years the state could be saving money because of less criminal trials.

“A trial for this lady’s daughter who was murdered, the trial cost $250,000,” Ruestman said. “The state had to pay $250,000 to actually catch and convict this guy. These offenders usually strike about 12 times in a lifetime so if we could pick them up the second time around then we believe the cost-analysis is a money-maker for the state.”

Anyone who provided a DNA sample upon arrest but was later found innocent of the crime could request for the sample to be expunged from his or her record. Ruestman also said that only 13 of the roughly one million markers in a DNA sample would be used, so no personal information would be in the criminal data. In addition, the DNA files would not be filed by name or social security number, but by a code kept at another location, making it nearly impossible to steal the information.

“I’m very comfortable that we are not trampling on people’s rights,” Ruestman said.

“Not only do they catch criminals with this, but they prove people innocent with this.”

The bill now awaits word from the committee, and then could be sent to the House floor for a vote.