New Colorado law requires DNA tests in felony arrests
Associated Press Writer
DENVER, Colorado ” A woman whose daughter was raped and murdered in New Mexico says a new Colorado law requiring anyone arrested for a felony to submit a DNA sample will solve some crimes and prevent others.
“This is a happy day, this is a wonderful day,” said Jayann Sepich, who has campaigned across the nation for similar laws. “The true blessing is we will not know the names of the victims who will be saved. We will not know who they are.”
Gov. Bill Ritter signed the law Thursday. It’s called Katie’s Law after 22-year-old Katie Sepich, who was raped and murdered in 2003. Her killer was captured using DNA.
Since her death, 21 states have laws requiring DNA samples from some suspects.
Ritter, a former Denver district attorney, said hundreds suspects have been arrested and more than 200 wrongfully imprisoned inmates have been set free because of DNA evidence in states that have passed similar laws.
Addressing critics who called the bill an invasion of privacy, Attorney General John Suthers said people who have been arrested have been forced to provide their fingerprints for decades. He said convicted felons have been required to provide DNA for years, and those records have been used only for law-enforcement purposes.
Current Denver District Attorney Mitch Morrissey said his office found that three slayings and 18 sexual assaults, along with a host of other violent felonies, could have been prevented in Denver since 1989 if such testing was allowed.
Under Colorado’s new law, DNA will be taken from those arrested for felonies through a cheek swab, by reasonable force if necessary, and then sent to the Colorado Bureau of Investigation for testing and entrance to the state database. Those not charged within 90 days can ask for their DNA records to be removed for the database.
As an added protection, Republicans and some Democratic lawmakers added a requirement that the state pay $25,000 to anyone whose DNA record was not expunged upon request. A $2.50 charge will be added to all felony and misdemeanor convictions and traffic tickets to pay for the testing.
Samples from those accused of felonies will be collected starting Oct. 1, 2010.
While federal appellate courts and state courts have held that DNA samples are like fingerprints, Morgan Carroll, a trial lawyer and Democratic lawmaker from Aurora who opposed the bill, said the matter is far from settled.
She cited a 1989 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that there is a reasonable expectation of privacy when it comes to bodily fluids such as blood, urine and saliva. The high court in the 1960s ruled that fingerprints are “knowingly exposed” to the public and therefore don’t present an intrusion.
“If they follow their own precedent, I think this law is going to get stricken down,” Carroll said.
The Congressional Research Service, a nonpartisan research arm for members of Congress, noted in a report in January that challenges could also be raised if scientists discover uses for parts of DNA currently believed to contain no useful medical or biological information.
The U.S. Department of Justice announced last year that all federal law enforcement agencies would collect DNA from all detainees.
Alabama, Florida and Missouri also passed laws this year requiring DNA samples from suspects in felony cases.
Similar laws were already on the books in Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Kansas, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, New Mexico, North Dakota, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont and Virginia.
The first systemic use of fingerprints in the U.S. for criminals was begun in 1904 by the New York State Prison system, according to a brief history of fingerprints by the U.S. Marshals Service.