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Wisconsin Works Hard to Update Criminal DNA Database

A recent article reports on a massive effort by the state of Wisconsin to update its DNA database for felons and sex crime offenders.

This undertaking is the result of a 2009 audit of the state's DNA database which revealed that 17,698 Wisconsin offenders did not have DNA on file. This figure represents nearly 14 percent of the 130,386 convicted offenders since the law was enacted in 1990.

DNA evidence has gained increasing importance in criminal conviction since it was adopted in the late 1980s. In 1993, the state of Wisconsin mandated that DNA samples be collected from all people convicted of sex crimes. In recent years the law has been expanded to include all felons as well as those convicted of sex-offense misdemeanors.

In an aggressive effort to update records, letters are being sent to convicted felons and sex-offenders ordering them to provide a DNA sample at their local jail. If they do not comply after a follow-up letter has been sent, they can be charged with a misdemeanor, accompanied by fines and up to nine months in jail.

While this mandate can seem intrusive for those who have already served time for a conviction, a complete and accurate database is actually beneficial to both convicted felons and law enforcement. The best example of this was the case of Walter Ellis, who was recently convicted for the murders of seven prostitutes in the Milwaukee area. Police have been able to link his DNA to other murders as well.

Ellis had initially failed to provide a DNA sample despite previously serving a prison sentence. After police obtained his DNA, they were able to convict him of all seven homicide charges. Moreover, two men who were falsely convicted of some of Ellis' murders were set free. As the database improves and more samples of DNA are collected, it is quite possible that more wrongful convictions will be corrected and innocent people will be set free.

DNA is one of the strongest pieces of evidence in any criminal case. Most often, it is in the best interest of a previously convicted felon to provide a DNA sample for the database in order to exclude him as a suspect in future crimes.

Source: The Capital Times online, "Crime and Courts: Police Still Hunting for DNA from Thousands of Offenders," Steven Elbow, 06 December 2010

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