Wed, Apr 13, 2011 - Page 8 News List

Database for DNA key to full sex crime law

By Sandy Yeh 葉毓蘭

A junior-high school girl in Yunlin County was recently raped and murdered. A repeat sex offender who had just been released on parole is suspected of committing these acts. As a result of the ensuing public anger, we may finally have a chance to break through the blockade of so-called “human rights groups” that are opposed to amending the Sexual Assault Crime Prevention Act (性侵害犯罪防治法). If approved, judges will be able to follow the example of Megan’s Law in the US and decide to publish the names and photos of repeat sexual offenders as well as the nature of their crime in order to avoid similar tragedies.

Following several child assault crimes that have highlighted the flaws of the act and the rise of the “White Rose” movement in September last year, the legislature is now expected to pass the amendment. Still, the information and monitoring of sex offenders alone will not be enough to prevent them from committing crimes again. Nor will they put an end to sex assault crimes. Just as the “protection order” in the Domestic Violence Prevention Act (家庭暴力防治法) will not prevent victims of domestic violence from being abused, complementary measures are required. In this case, the most important measure is building a DNA database on sex offenders.

A US newspaper recently reported a similar sexual assault case that happened in Maryland in July 2003, though the suspect was only arrested in Wisconsin years later. Just like the Taiwanese girl, the victim was 13 years old at the time of the crime. The difference is that she survived and the police could take complete samples of the suspect’s DNA. It took some time, but they were able to make a breakthrough seven years later thanks to the strengthening of the DNA database as a result of legislative amendments. When a suspect was arrested for selling marijuana and ordered to submit a DNA sample, a match was found.

In 1994, the US passed the DNA Identification Act to provide legal grounds for DNA collection. In 2000, it passed the DNA Analysis Backlog Elimination Act, authorizing the FBI to integrate DNA databases in different US states and organizations, including a DNA database of officially convicted criminals, missing people and their families, and unidentified corpses. In 2005, it passed the DNA Fingerprint Act, integrating criminals’ DNA and fingerprint data. Last year, it passed the Katie Sepich Enhanced DNA Collection Act to impose DNA collection on all suspects except in the case of a few misdemeanors. By gradually enhancing the laws, the US’ DNA database grew from 460,000 items in 2000 to 2.03 million in 2004 and 8.64 million last year. The number of cases solved as a result has increased more than 100-fold.

These results were achieved thanks to the US’ employment of modern technology. By strengthening its criminal investigation with the help of the expanded database, the US can now provide a safer environment, safeguard the rights of law-abiding citizens and improve trial efficiency. This brings comfort to victims and their families, and promotes fairness and justice. Furthermore, the strengthened DNA database and improved matching could clear innocent suspects and reduce miscarriages of justice.

Just like the obstacles to the amendment of Taiwan’s Sexual Assault Crime Prevention Act, the amendment of the DNA Sampling Regulations (去氧核醣核酸採樣條例) has been delayed since passing its first reading in the legislature in 2008. When the public says the long documentation process, poor administrative efficiency and bureaucracy were “accomplices” to the murder of the girl in Yunlin, one wonders if anyone has looked into whether the legislature is the reason why the law remains stalled.

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