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DNA database brings speedy justice

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Tabatha Autry remembers the horrific day she was raped.

"I can remember literally being pulled like a cave woman and my girlfriend helping the guy. You can't just get over it," she says.

She was only 13 years old.

"I would have wanted to be the goodie-two-shoes than have lived from that point until today, with the things that I've gone through," states Autry. 

It can take two years before a rape victim gets their day in court -- and that's only if the assailant is caught.

But starting in 2013, a new law will be implemented in South Carolina and many believe it will drastically change the legal game.

"Many times these cases come down to 'he said, she said' and when you have physical evidence, it just makes what she said that much stronger in court," says Tina Toth, a victim advocate for the Rape Crisis Center of Horry and Georgetown Counties.

The "South Carolina Violence Against Women and Children Act" has evolved over the years. It started in 1994, when every sex crime felon was required to give a DNA sample upon conviction. In 2000, violent crimes were added, then all felons in 2004.

In 2008, state legislators in South Carolina passed another revision, but left it unfunded for four years.

Now if someone is arrested -- not convicted -- of a felony offense with a sentence of five or more years, is charged with a misdemeanor of eavesdropping, peeping, stalking, or any violent or sexual crime, that person will have to submit a DNA blood sample the second he or she is booked at a local jail.

"That will allow us to see if they're involved in any other crimes as soon as possible, instead of waiting a year until they go to trial to get convicted," says Lt. David McClure.

McClure oversees the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division's (SLED) DNA crime lab in Columbia. It is a place cameras are rarely granted access. He tells us they've spent the last four years implementing cutting-edge technology that's increasing efficiency, reducing analysis time and eliminating human errors.

The lab currently collects about 11,000 blood samples each year from convicted felons, but he expects that number to at least double once arrestees are added to the list.

Let's say a fingerprint or blood drop is found at a crime scene. That's submitted to SLED and it's run up against CODIS, a nationwide database that keeps track of the DNA.

Just to give you some perspective, there are approximately 175,000 DNA samples in the database currently. So it makes sense, if you have more names in the database, there's a better chance of getting a match and potentially solving a case.

Deputy Solicitor Jimmy Richardson has no doubt this new law will help make cases stronger - meaning tougher convictions for those who deserve it.

Because DNA is so decisive, it can be used not only to lock someone up, but also to free them.

"We're not in the business to put someone in prison that didn't do anything. A lot of times it comes back and we realize we're on the wrong track. This DNA that was found doesn't match this guy's DNA. So it frees as many people as it convicts, and that's the whole system of justice," says Richardson.

Justice for people like Tabatha Autry and the millions of other victims who pray and hope for closure every single day.

"I think one of the really specific challenges of this area is that we have a lot of transient people, so having a database like this where you can run the DNA evidence through and in a timely fashion and you're building those strong cases for court. That can make all of the difference in really holding people accountable," says Tina Toth.

Just to be clear, because a person is considered innocent until proven guilty in this country, there is a safety net for arrestees. If a person is found not guilty, their case is dismissed or they've been found guilty of a charge that doesn't qualify them for this law, SLED will have to destroy their DNA sample and remove their profile from CODIS immediately.

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