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Other Budget Issues

Last Updated: 1/22/2010
Budget Issue: Increased penalty assessment for forensic laboratories.
Program: Department of Justice
Finding or Recommendation: The Governor's special session proposal to increase an existing penalty assessment and expand the use of the assessment revenues to include non-DNA laboratories operated by the Department of Justice (DOJ) merits legislative consideration. Alternatively, the Legislature could require DOJ to charge local governments for the forensic services they provide.
Further Detail


The Bureau of Forensic Services within the Department of Justice (DOJ) operates 13 full-service forensic laboratories throughout the state, including a DNA laboratory in Richmond. The non-DNA forensic laboratories provide some state and many local agencies with analysis of various types of physical evidence and controlled substances, as well as analysis of materials found at crime scenes. In contrast, the DNA laboratory primarily analyzes DNA samples and uploads the appropriate information into an offender DNA database, known as the CAL-DNA data bank. While the operations of the DNA laboratory are supported with revenue collected from penalty assessments, the other DOJ laboratories are supported from the General Fund.

Proposition 69 Expands DNA Program. In November 2004, California voters approved Proposition 69, the DNA Fingerprint, Unsolved Crime, and Innocence Protection Act. Among other changes, the measure increased the number of individuals who are required to have their DNA placed in the state’s DNA database. Before Proposition 69 went into effect, state law only required adults and juveniles convicted of serious felonies to submit a blood sample for the purpose of obtaining a DNA profile of the offender. However, under Proposition 69, all convicted felons (adults and juveniles), as well as all adults arrested for any felony offense, are now required to submit DNA samples. This change significantly expanded the number of individuals who are in the DNA database.

Penalty Assessment Revenue Supports DNA Laboratory. In order to offset the increases in costs for DOJ to operate the DNA laboratory and for counties to collect DNA samples due to the expansion of the DNA program, Proposition 69 levied a criminal penalty of $1 for every $10 in fines, penalties, or forfeitures collected by the courts for criminal offenses. Currently, the state receives 25 percent of this funding and counties retain the remaining 75 percent, though the state initially received a higher share. The state’s portion is deposited in the state DNA Identification Fund. However, as we discussed in our Analysis of the 2007-08 Budget Bill, in the years immediately following the passage of Proposition 69, the revenues to the DNA Identification Fund from the $1 penalty assessment were insufficient to support the cost to the state for operating the DNA program. This was primarily due to problems with the collection of fees at the local level. In order to address these financial problems, legislation was enacted in 2006 directing counties to collect an additional $1 for every $10 in fines, penalties, or forfeitures to help finance the program. However, unlike the $1 penalty authorized in Proposition 69, all of the revenues from this second $1 penalty go to the state and is deposited in the DNA Identification Fund.

Governor’s Proposal: Increase Penalty Assessment and Expand Uses of Revenue

As part of the January 2010 special session to address the state’s budget shortfall, the Governor proposes to increase the $1 penalty assessment enacted by the Legislature for the DNA program to $3. In addition, the Governor proposes statutory changes so that the revenues from this penalty assessment could be used to support all of DOJ’s laboratories—rather than only the DNA laboratory. (Under the Governor’s proposal, the state’s share of the revenues from the $1 penalty assessment authorized in Proposition 69 would continue to be entirely allocated to the DNA laboratory.) The Governor’s budget assumes that the above changes would become effective on March 1, 2010 and makes the following adjustments:

  • Current Year. For 2009-10, the Governor’s budget estimates that the penalty increase will provide $13.7 million in additional penalty revenues that would fully offset a proposed $13.7 million General Fund reduction to the operating budget of DOJ’s non-DNA forensic laboratories.
  • Budget Year. For 2010-11, the Governor’s budget estimates that the penalty increase will provide about $41 million in additional penalty revenues that would mostly offset the proposed elimination of state funding for DOJ’s non-DNA forensic laboratories, which would result in General Fund savings of $45 million ($41 million in operations and $4.1 million in debt service). According to the administration, the DNA Identification Fund currently is projected to have a year-end fund balance in 2009-10 of roughly $30 million that could be used to accommodate any financial shortfalls.

Issues for Legislative Consideration

The Governor’s special session proposal recognizes that the state should not be financially responsible for the laboratory services provided to local governments and, thus, merits legislative consideration. The additional revenues from the proposed penalty increase would help offset costs currently borne by the General Fund. Given that many counties failed to collect the $1 penalty authorized in Proposition 69 after the measure was initially approved, the Joint Legislative Audit Committee may wish to consider requesting that the Bureau of State Audits investigate the collection and management of the increased penalty assessment. Such an investigation would help ensure that the revenues from the assessment are being collected and transferred to the state as intended.

However, given that developing physical evidence through laboratory analysis is part of the local law enforcement responsibility for investigating and prosecuting crimes, the Legislature could consider an alternative to increasing the existing penalty assessment that we believe better realigns state and local responsibilities. Specifically, instead of increasing the penalty, the Legislature could require DOJ to charge local law enforcement agencies for the forensic services they provide. As we discussed most recently in our 2009-10 Budget Analysis Series: Judicial and Criminal Justice, requiring the payment of laboratory fees would provide an incentive for law enforcement agencies to ration their use of state laboratory services by sending only high-priority cases to the state or by using other available entities (such as the Federal Bureau of Investigation and law enforcement agencies in nearby jurisdictions) to assist with testing.