Virginia Expands DNA Database

Jun 22, 2018

The governor has signed legislation expanding the state’s criminal data base – requiring that blood, saliva or tissue samples be taken from anyone convicted of two serious misdemeanors.

Gov. Ralph Northam (left) signs bill sponsored by Del. David Toscano (right) as the parents of Hannah Graham look on.

At a ceremony attended by two dozen politicians and law enforcement officers, Ralph Northam signed bills that will add new offenses to the list of convictions that trigger collection of DNA – criminal trespass and assault and battery.

Albemarle County Sheriff  Chip Harding, who led the drive to expand the data base, got lawmakers to include indecent exposure in 2015 – a category that could have saved two college students – Morgan Harrington and Hannah Graham – from the clutches of Jesse Matthew Jr.

“A lot of people don’t know it, but Jesse Matthew’s father was convicted  of that a year after the Fairfax rape, " he explained.  "If it had been in the databank at that time and we had done a familial search, we would have said, ‘It’s not Jesse Matthew Sr., but who is he kin to? Does he have a son?  Does he have a brother?  Jesse would have been a suspect at that point.  Morgan would be with us today.”

Morgan Harrington’s mother, Gil, expressed gratitude and said she and her husband would continue to work for further expansion of the database.

Governor Northam spoke with a portrait of Hannah Graham keeping watch.

“We have lots of good to do, and we’re not tired yet, and when we run out of things to do maybe then we’ll rest," she told RadioIQ.

The mother of Hannah Graham agreed other misdemeanors  -- recommended by the state’s crime commission – should be added to the list.

“Seven offenses were recommended for incusion, and only two got into the bill" she noted.  "That’s a really positive start.  It means that what happened to Hannah will not happen to another young woman in the same way.  Because now somebody who’s convicted of criminal trespass will have the DNA taken, and had that been done in 2010 Jesse Matthew would have been connected to previous heinous crimes, and he would have been in jail.”

Lawmakers did consider adding domestic assault, petit larceny, destruction of property, obstruction of justice and concealing merchandise, but the state’s Crime Commission estimated that would generate more than 16-thousand new samples for processing, and lawmakers could not find funding to increase the state’s crime lab enough to process all that DNA. 

Sheriff Harding said passage of the legislation was a bi-partisan effort.  He offered thanks to Republican Delegate Rob Bell:

“One of the chairmen of the finance committees one night when they could not find money to fund this, Rob went to him and offered to give up money on a bill that had been approved for funding,” he recalled.

And to Republican Prosecutor Robert Tracci who pushed for early introduction of the bill.

“I thought we needed to wait another year.  We had just been down there with Gil Harrington and thought the General Assembly needed a little more of a breather, but he said, ‘No breathing for them.  Let’s go for it!' So we got with the Grahams and they jumped on board and off we went.”

Delegate David Toscano, a Democrat and sponsor of the House Bill, assured the public that this change would not deprive innocent people of their privacy.

“We’re not taking DNA from people who’ve been charged with a crime," the House Minority Leader said before the bill was signed.  " It’s only people who have been convicted of a crime.  Folks kind of get that confused sometimes.  They’re worried about being in a database when they have not been convicted of anything, and that’s not the case here.”

And Secretary of Public Safety Brian Moran – a Democrat – added that expanding the DNA database would not only mean putting more guilty people behind bars but could exonerate more of the Innocent.