Legislation to allow the automatic collection of DNA samples from felony suspects easily won committee approval Wednesday in the Kentucky House.
The DNA would be gathered with a cheek swab. It would be tested and results recorded, so it could be used to identify suspects in other cases.
The House Judiciary Committee heard from Jayann Sepich, whose daughter Katie was raped and murdered in 2003 near her New Mexico home. She says this simple process has the power to quickly punish the guilty and heal the harm they’ve done.
Sepich, now a victim’s advocate, argued that gathering DNA data is not an invasion of privacy.
“There is one other use that can be used legally by the DNA data base and that is to identify unidentified human remains,” Sepich said. “So if I were found out in the dessert somewhere, they could use that DNA profile to identify me. There were a number of 9-11 victims that were identified through the DNA database. So, that’s a good thing for that.”
Still, the Kentucky Criminal Defense Attorney’s Association’s Ernie Lewis worried that DNA tests violates the U.S. Constitution.
“What are we presuming about persons who have been arrested that make it appropriate for us to draw the line at an arrest. Are we presuming guilt at that point?” Lewis said.
Rep. Mary Lou Marzian, a Democrat from Louisville who sponsored the bill, said that in Kentucky about 40,000 people are arrested on felony charges. She added that gathering samples from those suspects and then conducting DNA tests could cost more than $1.3 million per year.
Sepich argued that those costs are just a small portion of the price already paid in Kentucky for criminal investigations and prosecutions. To save money, Kentucky Jailers Association President Mike Simpson said, convicted felons could be tracked, using their fingerprints and DNA. Then, he said, another DNA test could be avoided.
‘If someone is in my facility, we fingerprint, we take the DNA,” Simpson said. “If that person bonds out and re-arrested at another particular facility and is gonna be fingerprinted a second time, they will be able to see that within the AVIS system and a second DNA would not be necessary.”
The committee also discussed the fate of DNA records. In some states, the records are destroyed when a suspect is cleared of felony charges. It’s an issue under debate with this bill. For this reason, Rep. Brent Yonts, D-Greenville, cast a cautious vote in favor of additional DNA testing.
“The issue of constitutionality is out there and I’m always afraid of issues that deal into getting information before someone is convicted,” Yontz said. “And this one is gonna be decide fairly quickly by the courts, so I vote yes.”