State News

Rape victim speaks out in support of DNA arrest bill

Posted June 28, 2010

— Nearly five years ago, Meghan Oberzan was on a routine morning jog when someone grabbed her along Charlotte's East Boulevard and raped her.

"The thing I remember the most about it was my scream," Oberzan, 30, said Monday. "It was my last chance for survival, I thought. I still think about it today."

WRAL News usually does not identify victims of sexual assault, but Oberzan has gone public with her story in an effort to raise support of a bill in the General Assembly that would require anyone arrested on a felony charge give a DNA sample.

A sample recovered in her case was linked to two other rapes in the Charlotte area, but investigators could never identify a suspect, because he was not listed in state and national DNA databases.

It was July 2007 when investigators finally made an arrest. To her surprise, Oberzan had learned her attacker had been in police custody on other charges shortly before and after her attack and the rapes of two other women.

"Had this (bill) been passed prior to my rape, in all likelihood, my rapist would have been in jail Sept. 25, 2005, and I would never have met him," Oberzan said.

North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper and others in law enforcement say House Bill 1403 would help solve cases like Oberzan's more quickly. 

But lawmakers still haven't taken up the matter, and the legislative session is nearing an end.

"The General Assembly must act now," Cooper said at a news conference to rally them to act on the bill. "More people like Meghan will suffer from violent crime if the Legislature leaves without passing this law."

June 28 news conference on DNA arrest bill June 28 news conference on DNA arrest bill

Under the proposed legislation, North Carolina would join 23 other states that would allow officers to use a cheek swab to take a DNA samples from anyone arrested on a felony charge.

The DNA would be used only for identification purposes, and if a person is found not guilty of the crime or the charge is dismissed, the sample would be deleted from the databases.

It would also help clear innocent people of crimes, said Jim Woodall, the president of the North Carolina Conference of District Attorneys, citing three 1995 rape cases in which women bound and gagged in Duke Forest.

In those cases, an innocent man matching the suspect description who was in the area at the time of the crimes was held for two weeks before investigators cleared him as a suspect.

The attacker was identified several years later after he had already been arrested on a 1997 stabbing charge and attacks on two real estate agents in 1998 and 1999.

“I think this (DNA arrest bill) cuts both ways. It certainly benefits the innocent. It's a very strong tool for prosecutors and law enforcement when we're going after the guilty," said Woodall, who serves as district attorney in Chatham and Orange counties. "This is the next appropriate step to take in this state."

North Carolina already has a law that requires convicted felons to submit DNA samples. Since it went into effect in 2003, the state's DNA database has grown from 18,000 samples to more than 190,000, Cooper said, and has solved more than 1,400 crimes.

In the first year the new law would be in place, Cooper has said, the state DNA database could be expanded by a projected 45,000 samples and solve an estimated 100 cases.

The bill, however, faces challenges.

Opponents are concerned about how DNA would be used and about the constitutionality of collecting it. They cite the Fourth Amendment, which guards against unreasonable government searches and seizures.

But Cooper said courts across the country have upheld the law as constitutional and that DNA would be an extension of the booking process.

Another concern is funding.

Cooper said the bill requires $1.4 million in funding, but regardless of where it comes from, it needs to be passed.

Gov. Bev Perdue asked for $700,000 in the state budget, in part, to train local law enforcement on how to collect DNA properly.

"We will need some budget help to get this done," Cooper said. "But it is a small price to pay to protect the public from violent crime, and we know that we can help protect the public from violent crime by doing this.”

The law would be self-sustaining through a proposed $3 court fee and eligibility for $1 million in federal funding that would cover the cost of approximately nine new employees at the State Bureau of Investigation Crime Lab, as well as swab kits and training for local law enforcement, the Attorney General's Office said.

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  • im rick james Jun 29, 2010

    "Just FYI...In North Carolina, if you are suspected in a crime in which there is DNA evidence the police can either ask you to voluntarily give them a DNA sample (to clear yourself as a suspect) or if they have probable cause they can obtain a warrant to force you to give them a DNA sample. The DNA profile that is obtained from that sample is compared to the evidence in the case in which you are a suspect. The profile is then entered in North Carolina's state DNA database where it is compared to DNA that was found at crime scenes from every case the state crime lab has ever worked. The profile is saved in the database where it will be compared to all DNA profiles entered into the database in the future. This happens regardless of how the police originally got your DNA (voluntarily or with a warrant) and regardless of whether or not your DNA profile matches the evidence DNA in the crime in which you were originally a suspect."

    exactly. this was described in painstaking detail in the j

  • im rick james Jun 29, 2010

    i have no problem with convicted felons being required to submit a dna sample. but, requiring anything less than a "convicted felon" to submit a sample without a warrant seems to be an invasion of their rights in my opinion.

    interestingly enough, i served on a jury a few weeks ago where one of the primary pieces of evidence in the trial was a dna sample from the crime scene that matched a sample that had taken from the suspect when he was previously convicted of a felony. the dna and two fingerprints (which also matched the prints taken when he was previously convicted) were the only pieces of evidence used to convict the guy for felony breaking and entering and larceny. interestingly enough, his rap sheet is covered with charges of various property crime...to me, this is a testament to the fact that a convicted felon has shown a trend in their lives, and they need to be subjected to additional scrutiny, such as requiring them to provide dna samples.

  • wildcat Jun 29, 2010

    What a brave young lady. May God continue to bless her in many ways.

  • wildcat Jun 29, 2010

    I sure support this new DNA bill. Too many criminals are getting away with crime. Something needs to be done. DNA would be the greatest answer to this. I hope this law passes.

  • sg0544 Jun 29, 2010

    Just FYI...In North Carolina, if you are suspected in a crime in which there is DNA evidence the police can either ask you to voluntarily give them a DNA sample (to clear yourself as a suspect) or if they have probable cause they can obtain a warrant to force you to give them a DNA sample. The DNA profile that is obtained from that sample is compared to the evidence in the case in which you are a suspect. The profile is then entered in North Carolina's state DNA database where it is compared to DNA that was found at crime scenes from every case the state crime lab has ever worked. The profile is saved in the database where it will be compared to all DNA profiles entered into the database in the future. This happens regardless of how the police originally got your DNA (voluntarily or with a warrant) and regardless of whether or not your DNA profile matches the evidence DNA in the crime in which you were originally a suspect.

  • sg0544 Jun 29, 2010

    You can be cleared of a crime without ever being arrested and the state still has your DNA profile.

  • tafiliclan1 Jun 29, 2010

    They will not destroy the database. They will keep the info. to match for any future crimes. Ask Heratio Caine.......

  • didisaythat Jun 29, 2010

    WCUMOM,

    Your scenario with your son and girlfriend makes a point why this is a good bill to pass. Would you rather him wait until trial is over before he is proven not guilty or when they can run the suspects DNA in the database,( which is not available for an officer to just pick up and spread around like some conspiracy people think happened in the OJ trial...please.) And rule him out during the investigation. People please this violates your privacy like fingerprinting does. Give me a break about the gov't doing some dasturdly thing in the future. If you pass laws that restrict law breaking instead of restricting citizens how are we losing freedom.

  • cubed32696 Jun 29, 2010

    Isn’t taking DNA after being found guilty sort of like shutting the barn door after the horse is long gone? The person is in jail/prison — it’s useless. This is especially true for someone in prison for life without possibility for parole or death row.

  • cubed32696 Jun 29, 2010

    I’m confused by those saying collect DNA for those arrested on felony charges. In a lot of cases, perpetrators escalate from misdemeanor to felony. If you keep DNA on all arrests (just like finger prints), LE is more likely to stop someone before they commit multiple crimes, and hopefully before they get to a felony. DNA is not only for rape victims, but in other physical assaults, DNA is left behind. Even in break-ins, DNA may be left behind.

    The person may not have committed a crime in NC before, but did in other states. This is would allow LE to run DNA against that in other states in similar crimes. Think Ted Bundy going cross country. Yes, I know there was no DNA testing way back then, but this is just an example of crimes committed across the US that may have been stopped before he murdered MULTIPLE WOMEN.

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