South Africa

'Big step forward': DNA samples from violent criminals now compulsory

'Big step forward': DNA samples from violent criminals now compulsory

Mandatory DNA samples will now be taken from offenders guilty of serious crimes, a move hailed as a “big step” towards solving and preventing crime, especially sexual offences.

The amendments to section 36D(1) of the Criminal Law (Forensic Procedures) Amendment Act was signed into law by President Cyril Ramaphosa on January 13 and applies to people convicted of crimes under schedule 8 offences.

Schedule 8 offences include rape, murder, human trafficking, robbery and culpable homicide.

“Offenders don’t only commit one type of crime. For example, a house breaker might also be a rapist. So if he is arrested on a HB [housebreaking] case and his DNA is taken, it could lead to a link with a rape cases,” forensic psychologist Prof Gerard Labuschagne said.

Civil rights organisation Action Society, which has been advocating for the amendment, welcomed the promulgation.

“DNA remains the most effective crime-fighting tool and the sampling of schedule 8 arrestees will make a huge impact in solving cold cases, identifying repeat offenders and assisting in successful prosecutions of rapists and murderers,” spokesperson Elanie van der Walt said.

Van der Walt said the DNA samples would populate the National Forensic DNA Database (NFDD), which would then enable law enforcement to link perpetrators to cold cases, identify repeat offenders and to get more perpetrators prosecuted.

“Although DNA sampling of schedule 8 arrestees is now compulsory, it is important that this legislation be acted on immediately and not just seen as another piece of paper. 

“The SA Police Service (SAPS) will have to ensure that their stations are equipped with the necessary consumables to do the sampling and police members must urgently receive training for this legislation to have a positive impact in the fight against violent crime, especially gender-based violence and femicide, (GBVF) in our country,” she said.

Labuschagne said he hoped the forensic science laboratory has the capacity to process the samples and that DNA reference kits would be freely available to the police.

“I also hope that there is enough training for SAPS members on how to take such samples. Also that there is follow-up by commanders that DNA is taken when a suspect is arrested (that is, the law is enforced).”

Police minister Bheki Cele said last May the national backlog at forensic science laboratories stood at 208,291 cases. Gauteng had the largest degree of DNA backlogs at 115%, followed by the Western Cape with 113%, KwaZulu-Natal at 81% and the Eastern Cape at 44%.

Cele said measures were being implemented to resolve this, with a target to clear the backlogs within 18 months.