What do a 17-year-old cold case strangulation, a 25-year-old murder and a 4-day crime spree have in common? These cases, in addition to about 250 others, were all solved by Texas investigators this year thanks to the enactment of the Krystal Jean Baker Act in September 2019.
The act, also known as House Bill (HB) 1399, authorizes the collection of DNA samples from individuals charged with 24 qualifying felonies and compares the offender samples to existing crime scene DNA profiles in CODIS. The law is named for Krystal Jean Baker, who was 13-years-old when she was abducted, sexually assaulted and murdered in 1996. DNA evidence was collected at the time of her death, but no arrests were made. In 2010, the perpetrator of Baker’s murder was arrested on an unrelated charge in Louisiana, and DNA taken at the time of his arrest linked him to Baker’s case. In 2012, he pleaded guilty to the girl’s murder.
“The hard work of our crime lab employees and law enforcement officials is allowing us to make great strides in solving crimes faster, and in some cases, crimes that otherwise may never have been solved,” said Texas Department of Public Safety Director Steven McCraw. “Only a year after its passage, this law has become a valuable tool in getting criminals off our streets and bringing justice for victims and their families. We expect additional success as this process becomes an integral and vital part of the criminal justice landscape.”
The Krystal Jean Baker Act allows Texas investigators to collect a cheek swab upon a person’s arrest for a qualifying felony. The swab is then sent to the Department of Public Safety to be entered into CODIS in search of a match.
Between the enactment of the law on Sept. 1, 2019 and August 31, 2020, Texas added 16,215 DNA samples from arrestees into CODIS. Almost all of the matches were from unsolved cases in Texas, but some spanned criminal activity in 7 other states. Interestingly, 85% of the case matches solved a different offense than the qualifying crime the individual was arrested for.
Burglary (47 cases) and assault (40) were the top two qualifying offenses at arrest, followed by aggravated assault (31), aggravated robbery (31) and sexual assault (21). However, that parlayed into solving 101 sexual assaults, almost triple the number of burglaries (38). Robbery (20) and murder (10) were also near the top of the list of investigations solved.
Currently, Texas is one of 31 states (and the federal government) that collects DNA from arrestees who have been charged or arrested—but not convicted—of certain crimes. The state laws vary in qualifying offenses. For example, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 29 states collect DNA for at least some state felonies, while 8 have laws that collect DNA from arrestees for certain misdemeanors. Oklahoma only collects DNA from arrestees who are unauthorized immigrants under federal immigration law. Meanwhile, eight states apply their arrestee laws to juveniles.
The 2013 Supreme Court case of Maryland v. King gave states the right to collect DNA from arrestees. At the time, the court called DNA sample collection for violent crime arrests supported by probable cause a “legitimate police booking procedure,” likening it to fingerprinting and mugshots.