Katie’s Law – collecting DNA at arrest

On January 10, 2013, President Obama signed “Katie’s Law,” named for New Mexico college student Katie Sepich. The law provides grants to states to implement and expand laws authorizing the collection of DNA evidence from suspects arrested and charged with specified felonies. According to the DNA Saves Foundation, created by Sepich’s parents, twenty-six states already authorize collection at arrest. According to the Billings Gazette, the Wyoming Legislature just rejected the proposal. (A map on the Foundation website shows which states require testing on felony arrest.)

All states require DNA collection on conviction. The law does not affect DNA testing when required for investigating or prosecuting a specific case.

The pro: checking DNA on a suspect arrest may help determine whether he is a suspect in other crimes.

The con: automatic collection of DNA may infringe the rights of persons not yet convicted–who may in fact be innocent–and by expanding a government database, may expand the risk of future misuse or over-reaching.

According to the Las Cruces Sun-Times, Katie Sepich, a 22-year-old graduate student, was raped and murdered in 2003. At that time, New Mexico did not collect DNA until the suspect had been convicted. A man arrested on other charges in 2003 was ultimately convicted and tested in 2006; only then was his DNA connected to her. In other words, if DNA had been collected when he was arrested, he could have been charged in her case several years earlier.

Meanwhile, a Maryland man who pled guilty to a lesser charge — for which DNA samples at arrest were not authorized — challenged the constitutionality of that state’s law. The Supreme Court is hearing the case this week.

And in another development, the Missoulian reports that Montana may soon become the 47th state to require registered violent and sex offenders who move to the state from another to provide a DNA sample when they move into the state. Three other states — Colorado, Idaho, and Wisconsin — have yet to enact such a law. (All states require offenders who must register in another state to register when they move to a new state.)

Will the timing of a DNA test affect your story?

15 thoughts on “Katie’s Law – collecting DNA at arrest

  1. DNA doesn’t come into the things I write, nevertheless, I am facinated by all this science. 1890 crime scenes are the same as 2013 crime scenes and you can bet the readers would complain if I got it wrong. I have a few stories that involve finger pritnts and rifeling on bullets and bugs on bodies, but the detectives don’t see them the same way we do and they could not be used in court.

  2. Leslie, I may be wrong, but I think 45+/- states have put Katie’s Law into effect. Colorado (my state) has not. This will be interesting to see how the Supreme Court rules. If the Supreme Court rules DNA samples taken at the time of arrest, what does that do to the states that have put it into effect? (Hope I have this right.)

  3. Leslie, your blog is really helpful. I hope you’ll post the Supreme Court’s finding and arguments. It seems as though DNA sampling should at least require a warrant, and if samples are collected on suspicion and the defendant found innocent of the charge, laws should require that the DNA samples be immediately destroyed.
    In addition to your blog or DorothyL post, I’ll be scanning news media for disposition of the case.
    Nancy G. West

  4. Thanks for this information, Leslie! Your blog is so helpful. I am in the process of considering moving my mystery back in time somewhat so I don’t have to deal with “legal” eviscerations of the 4th amendment & everything else.

  5. Leslie, very interesting breakdown of the issue. I have a question. What is meant by “future misuse and over-reaching.” I’m trying to think how DNA info could be misused, or how law enforcement could over-reach.

  6. Terry, some people fear that a government database intended for criminal investigation could be used for other reasons, like providing data for medical research, to identify persons involved in non-criminal activity, even to provide info for commercial reasons. That old slippery slope.

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