"DNA fingerprinting has proven to be an invaluable tool for New Jersey's law enforcement community," Sacco said. "[They already have] about 130,000 samples which can help in quickly identifying suspects, convicting the guilty, and exonerating the innocent. This technology has made our streets safer and our criminal justice system fairer."
Sacco has introduced a new bill that would expand a DNA Convicted Sampling and Testing Program, now just used for individuals involved in sexual crimes, to include individuals who are convicted of committing a disorderly persons' offense or arrested for certain violent crimes, such as murder, manslaughter, and kidnapping.
If the charges against an arrested offender are either dropped or the person is acquitted in a trial, then any DNA samples and records would have to be destroyed.
"DNA evidence is the 21st century's answer to fingerprinting, and it is appropriate for us to use it as extensively as we use fingerprinting now," Sacco said. "For those who are innocent of any crime, we make sure that innocence is reflected in that we destroy the sample. For those who are guilty, it allows us to search the database much earlier to determine if the criminal is responsible for other, unsolved crimes."
The DNA database program was recently cited as one of the Council of State Government Innovation Awards for 2005. The program was recognized for its effectiveness and efficiency, having collected 85,000 samples and having reduced the processing time from 210 to 30 days.
"Criminals are finding new ways to mask their actual fingerprints, but the idea of modifying one's DNA is only a science-fiction fantasy," Sacco said. "Our program is a national model of excellence, and we need to constantly refine the program so that it remains an effective and fair means of determining the guilt or innocence of suspects."
The bill is now awaiting consideration by the Senate Law, Public Safety & Veterans Affairs Committee.
Trying again Sacco introduced a similar bill last year, but it did not receive enough support to make it past the initial stages.
"Even though this bill did not make it out of committee last session, I am confident I can work with Chairman [Sen. John A.] Girgenti and the rest of the Committee to get it before the full Senate this year," Sacco said. "I feel strongly about this legislation."
E-Z Pass In another news regarding Sacco's work in the Senate, the Senate Transportation Committee, which is chaired by Sacco, approved legislation to be introduced by Sacco that would cut down on the theft of E-Z Pass responders by making the theft of the E-Z pass boxes a fourth-degree crime.
"E-Z Pass has proven to be a great time-saver for many New Jersey drivers, but the small size of the responders makes them a popular target for thieves," Sacco said. "Those drivers who use E-Z Pass for their tolls shouldn't be at more risk for theft than people who pay cash. This bill seeks to discourage criminals from targeting these devices and the drivers who use them."
The bill would amend the current law, adding theft of vehicle identification system transponders to an existing list of fourth-degree crimes. If someone is found guilty of stealing an E-Z Pass responder, the punishment could be a prison term of as much as 18 months and a fine of $10,000, if not both, depending upon each case.
The bill also states that if a customer reports the loss or theft of a responder in a timely fashion to the operators of the E-Z Pass system, the customer would not be liable for unauthorized charges of $50 or more incurred prior to the reporting of the loss or theft and those charges incurred after reporting the loss or theft.
The customer would also not be charged any fees for replacing the E-Z pass responder.
"Drivers who use the E-Z Pass system deserve certain reasonable protections, both criminal and civil, against the theft of their E-Z Pass responders," Sacco said. "We are giving them a safeguard against outrageous fees in case a criminal uses their responder for their own purposes."
Sacco's legislation was approved by the Transportation Committee by a vote of 4-0. It is expected to draw support through the Senate when introduced shortly. Sacco introduced similar legislation in 2004, but it did not pass through the State Assembly at that time.