FORENSIC Science Improvement Act passes.


Wednesday, May 9th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6



OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ Lawbreakers would be assessed an additional $5 fee to pay for improving the state's DNA testing capability under a bill passed Wednesday by the Oklahoma Senate.

The Forensic Science Improvement Act, by Sen. Dick Wilkerson, D-Atwood, was approved by the Senate on a 39-0 vote. It now goes to the House for consideration.

The bill sets up a revolving fund at the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation to be used to improve its forensic testing capability.

It will raise an estimated $3.7 million next year and $44 million over the next 10 years.

Wilkerson, a former OSBI agent, said it will allow the OSBI to build a new lab in Oklahoma City, upgrade its Tahlequah facility and hire needed technicians.

He said OSBI is moving toward gaining national certification for its Oklahoma City lab and that could occur as early as this summer.

He said the importance of quality forensic testing was pointed up by the controversy over former Oklahoma City police chemist Joyce Gilchrist, whose work on hundreds of criminal cases is being examined after she was criticized in an FBI report. Jeffrey Pierce, who was wrongly convicted based partly on her testimony, was freed from prison Monday after serving 15 years of a 65-year sentence.

Kym Koch, spokeswoman for the OSBI, said a new building is needed in Oklahoma City to allow the agency to expand its DNA testing capability.

The $5 assessment will apply to any moving traffic violation or criminal offense that produces a fine exceeding $10.

The bill adds to the offenses where DNA testing will be authorized.

It also provides that in the future school officials must turn over to authorities drugs found on students or in schools.

Wilkerson said there had been instances where drugs were ``flushed down the toilet'' at some schools when ``upper middle-income students'' were involved, while contraband was turned over to police if poor students were involved.

He said the bill was not designed to usurp the authority of school administrators to handle some cases administratively.