Every person charged with a felony, violent crime or misdemeanor sexual offense will be required to give a DNA sample if a bill approved by the Senate on Friday is enacted into law. The bill sponsored by Sen. Novelle Francis would expand existing law, which allows the government to take DNA samples only if a person is actually convicted of a crime.
Under the proposed law, those charged but not convicted would also have their DNA sampled.
Several senators said the change would not only give police and prosecutors a powerful tool to help convict those suspected of crimes but that expanded DNA testing could also help eliminate suspects.
"Just as one of my colleagues said, the DNA can work for the defendant as well as the prosecutor," Sen. Tregenza Roach said, recalling stories in the news of defendants who were exonerated after being convicted, thanks to DNA evidence.
The practice has generated controversy, with some charging it is a violation of the U.S. Constitution’s protections against unreasonable search and seizure.
A 2013 Supreme Court case, Maryland v. King, narrowly concluded, by a 5-4 vote, that it is permissible to take DNA after arrests as well as after a conviction. (See: V.I. May Automatically Take DNA Samples in Felony Arrests in Related Links below)
After some amendments, the Senate also passed legislation sponsored by Sen. Sammuel Sanes to double fines for speeding in a work zone. Sanes said public workers are put at risk when drivers go too fast and do not pay attention.
He offered amendments, saying the bill applies to drivers who drive at a speed greater than that posted on signs posted by the roadwork crews. It addressed a concern raised when the bill was heard in committee, regarding what constituted speeding in the law: a posted speed limit or a reduced speed associated with the roadwork.
Senators also passed legislation approving the government’s health insurance plan for the University of the Virgin Islands and the V.I. Housing Authority with United Healthcare Insurance Co. and its affiliates.
The Senate approved the insurance contract for the general government in September of 2015.
It also approved a bill sponsored by Sen. Positive Nelson appropriating $50,000 appropriation to build a mausoleum for the late Gov. Juan F. Luis in Kingshill Cemetery on St. Croix. (Nelson legally changed his first name to his longtime nickname "Positive" in January of this year.)
Senators approved a resolution honoring the late Alvin "Gee" Southwell, a staple of V.I. news coverage for many years with his readily recognizable voice reading the news of the day on several radio stations over the years. Southwell was a ubiquitous presence, covering every major V.I. event in person and reading the news, in his readily recognizable voice, on the radio every day for many years.
Senators praised Southwell for being fair, thorough and even-handed.
"He is an individual who certainly is missed in this community," Sen. Jean Forde said.
Legislation affecting pensions for the judiciary, to consolidate the territory’s elections boards into a single board, and to require rental property owners certify their taxes were paid before evicting tenants were sent to committee for further vetting.
All senators were present except Marvin Blyden, who is out of the territory.