Tuesday March 6, 2012

PITTSFIELD -- The Massachusetts State Police are moving forward with criminal charges against a Pittsfield woman who is refusing to give a sample of her DNA to the state database.

The police say the woman has been in violation of the law for 6 1/2 years. She says she was never told about the law.

The state police have filed a criminal charge of failure to provide a DNA sample against the woman after Clerk Magistrate Christopher N. Speranzo found there was probable cause to charge her. The decision was made following a probable cause hearing in Central Berkshire District Court last month.

She is scheduled to be arraigned on the charge March 20.

"I'm nervous I'm frustrated," said the 42-year-old woman who agreed to speak to The Eagle provided her name not be published.

She said she has continued to be in contact with the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts as well as with Pittsfield attorney John A. Bernardo.

The woman pleaded guilty to a single count of assault and battery with a dangerous weapon in Central Berkshire District Court in June 2004.

She said she was defending herself against an abusive boyfriend. The woman served a year of probation without incident, ending the case.

The woman said she was never told by anyone in the court system that if she pleaded guilty, she would be required to provide a sample of her DNA to the state.


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Similarly, there was nothing in any of her original court documents concerning the requirement.

Since that time, the woman says she has stayed out of trouble, gone to college and raised a family.

It wasn't until this past November that she was made aware that she had allegedly been in violation of the law dating back to 2005.

Before November, the woman said the state had never sought to collect her DNA.

On the books since February 2004, the law requires anyone convicted of a felony to submit a DNA sample to the Combined DNA Index System, or CODIS. The samples are collected and uploaded to both the state and federal DNA index systems, according to a state report.

The current penalty for not complying is up to six months in jail and/or a $1,000 fine.

Law enforcement officials believe DNA databases are vital to crime investigation by helping to identify criminals accurately and clearing previously unsolved cases. Others, including the ACLU, believe DNA is sensitive information that can reveal things about the offender, as well as about blood relatives.

On Jan. 25 Bernardo, filed a motion on behalf of the woman to revise and revoke the 2004 sentence, which would allow the judge to simply add to the probation sentence "DNA sample not required," ending the matter.

Normally, this kind of motion must be filed within 60 days of the sentencing.

Bernardo argued that the circumstances of the case had so dramatically changed that it warranted the motion being filed, while Berkshire Assistant District Attorney Joseph Zlatnik argued that too much time had elapsed.

District Court Judge Rita S. Koenigs denied the motion.

Detective Lt. Mary M. Sennott, of the Massachusetts State Police CODIS Collection and Investigative Unit, was present at the hearing and tried to speak with the woman in order "to see if she would submit DNA as required by law," according to a police probable cause report.

Sennott said she was prevented from doing this by Bernardo, who allegedly told her his client would not be giving the police her DNA, the report indicated.