MADISON — The state Department of Justice would have to destroy DNA samples taken from suspects who are ultimately found not guilty under a bill a bipartisan group of lawmakers is trying to move through the Legislature.
Wisconsin law requires police to take DNA from anyone arrested for a violent felony and send the samples to the DOJ’s crime lab. Convicted felons, sex offenders and anyone convicted of a misdemeanor also must surrender their DNA to the agency.
If a defendant is found not guilty, he can ask the agency to destroy his sample and all records associated with them. Under the bill, the defendant would not have to ask.
The measure’s sponsors include Assembly Republicans and Democrats from both the Senate and Assembly. The group includes Rep. Evan Goyke and Sen. Lena Taylor, two Milwaukee legislators who have both served as public defenders.
Rep. Dean Knudson, a Hudson Republican and the bill’s chief Assembly sponsor, wrote in a memo to his fellow lawmakers that current law asks defendants to do too much.
The process for expunging DNA, Knudson wrote, “places the burden on the citizen, rather than the government. We believe that priority should be reversed.”
A DOJ spokeswoman had no immediate comment on the measure.
The bill’s prospects look murky at best.
Republicans control both houses and no GOP senators have signed on to the measure since it was introduced in late November. The bill is currently sitting in the Assembly criminal justice and Senate judiciary committees. Rep. Joel Kleefisch, an Oconomowoc Republican who chairs the Assembly criminal justice committee, said he plans to hold a hearing on the measure.
“It’s important we zealously defend the rights of the innocent as zealously as we fight to lock up the guilty,” he said. “
The Wisconsin Chiefs of Police Association opposes the measure, according to state Government Accountability Board records. Kit Beyer, a spokeswoman for Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, said Vos is still reviewing the bill. A spokeswoman for Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald didn’t immediately respond to an email message seeking comment.