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No DNA Collected from DUI Suspects Under ‘No Refusal’ Law: State

by Andrea Zelinski on July 24, 2012

The blood samples collected from suspected drunk drivers under a new “No Refusal” law are not added to a national DNA database used by prosecutors, according to Tennessee state public safety officials.

“Blood samples obtained by a search warrant from a suspected DUI offender are tested for blood alcohol content only,” Department of Safety Spokeswoman Jennifer Donnals said via email. “Those blood samples are not used for any other purpose and are NOT placed in a DNA database.”

“There’s no DNA ever run on those,” said Kristin Helm, spokeswoman for the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation. “I can assure you that’s not the case.”

The state this summer began enforcing a new law that allows cops to seek a warrant to compel people accused of driving under the influence to involuntarily give up a blood sample if they refuse a Breathalyzer or blood test.

State troopers forced eight people to submit to blood tests over the Fourth of July holiday weekend during the first test of the new law, DPS said.

A judge on-site issued warrants requiring the sobriety tests of the drivers, who had initially refused. Another 40 people stopped in Anderson, Bradley, Davidson, Maury and Warren counties submitted to the tests without a warrant. The results of those tests are not yet available.

State officials say the blood collected will not be used to bolster the national Combined DNA Index System, known as CODIS, a database to which Tennessee adds tens of thousands of DNA profiles each year in an attempt to help prosecutors levy charges against crime suspects.

Not least among the reasons is it would be unlawful to do so.

Officials can only collect and keep DNA information from convicted felons and people accused of committing or being a party to a “violent felony,” such as aggravated assault and carjacking. This year, lawmakers added that people charged with five additional crimes would also have to give up DNA samples, including various homicide and manslaughter charges.

Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey in 2011 wanted to expand that list to all felonies, like large-scale theft and drug crimes and DUIs, but the measure went nowhere.

The state collected 14,586 DNA samples from arrestees and 13,778 samples from convicts in the year ended June 2011, according to the TBI. The TBI handles DNA evidence for the major crimes that make it into CODIS and is in charge of examining blood work to measure alcohol or toxicity of DUI suspects.

The statements from TBI and Safety spokespersons conflicted with that of Safety Department Commissioner Bill Gibbons. The TBI is independent of his department.

Gibbons, a former Memphis district attorney, told TNReport on July 17 that the state does retain a database of DNA records for people accused of driving under the influence. “The state does have DNA records on many individuals, and you can run those results, and it really helps in terms of investigating a particular case, and I again, I think it’s to the advantage of everybody,” Gibbons said. And when asked specifically if the state retained a database of DNA records of people accused of DUIs, he said, “Yes, but how long it’s retained, I don’t know the answer to that. But yes, there is a database, so to speak, of that.”

Howver, that’s not accurate, Donnals said later. “I think Commissioner Gibbons misunderstood your question, and I wanted to make sure you had the correct information,” she said via email later the day of the interview.

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