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Holness, Knight agree on mandatory DNA samples from accused

Published:Friday | March 20, 2015 | 3:00 AMEdmond Campbell

Defence attorney K.D. Knight says while he supports the introduction of DNA legislation for fighting crime, legislative provisions with safeguards should be crafted to accommodate the mandatory taking of DNA samples from accused persons upon arrest.

Yesterday Opposition leader Andrew Holness urged the Government to fast-track the passage of DNA legislation, with provisions for the creation of a DNA database. He also suggested the mandatory taking of DNA samples from accused individuals.

"The recent Irwin rape case is instructive. DNA evidence does not only convict criminals, but serves to protect the innocent," Holness contended.

Brothers Kerron and Sheldon Brissett, who were arrested and charged in connection with the rape of four women and an eight-year-old girl in Irwin Point, St James, in 2012 were freed in 2013 by the court after DNA samples offered by them did not place them at the scene of the incident.

Commenting on the Opposition leader's proposal, Knight said he is a strong proponent for the use of DNA because it can either tie persons in, or absolve individuals in an investigation.

 

Protective legislation

 

However, Knight argued that where rights might be infringed, the State should have some protective legislative provisions in place.

"You are going to have the power to take this sample from the individual, but you must have some protection - that's what I call the A-Z approach," Knight explained, adding that "you are looking to see how you are going to assist the society generally, but you do not want to sacrifice rights. It's a balancing act."

Knight, who was a former minister of national security and justice, said lawmakers should await the DNA legislation, which is expected to go before a joint select committee of Parliament for deliberations.

"I would want to research how it has worked in any other jurisdiction where there is the mandatory taking of samples," Knight said.

He said the first capacity Jamaica had for introducing DNA was in the 1990s when he was minister of national security and justice. Knight said he sought assistance from the diplomatic community to fight crime and the Germans provided the capacity for Jamaica to use DNA.