Statute allowing DNA sampling on arrest upheld

I wrote earlier this year about a new federal statute called Katie’s Law  and similar statutes in 28 states that allow DNA samples to be taken from anyone charged with specified serious felonies when arrested — rather than deferring sampling until conviction. I also mentioned an on-going challenge to Maryland’s law. The challenger was arrested for assault and a DNA sample was taken. The sample connected him to an unsolved rape, for which he was then charged.

The Supreme Court has now reversed the Maryland Supreme Court and upheld the state law, holding 5-4 that sampling at the time of arrest is not unconstitutional. Justice Kennedy wrote for the majority that “police have a legitimate interest in identifying the person taken into custody and that the DNA samples could make sure that a dangerous criminal is not released on bail,” and the intrusiveness of a DNA swab is minimal in comparison. More details from the Washington Post report.

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?