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Mandatory DNA collection from suspected felons begins in Colorado; could add 25,000 innocent people to the database every year

By Peter Marcus | TheDenverDailyNews.com | Sep. 30, 2010

Law enforcement officials today will begin collecting DNA samples from suspects arrested for felony offenses in an attempt to crack cold cases.

The controversial so-called Katie’s Law will take full effect today, over a year after Gov. Bill Ritter signed the bill into law. The first half of the law took effect on July 1, 2009 when the state established a fund to pay for the program.

A news conference will be held in Colorado Springs today at the Colorado Springs Police Department headquarters to celebrate the full implementation of the law. A tour of the on-site DNA crime lab there is scheduled.

Katie’s Law allows police to take DNA samples from suspects arrested for rape, burglary and other felonies. Current law only allows police to take DNA samples from convicted felons.

The law is named for 22-year-old New Mexico murder victim Katie Sepich. Supporters say the measure will help prevent lives from being lost and keep the innocent from being wrongly prosecuted by expanding the state’s DNA database. 

“DNA is a powerful tool for law enforcement,” said Sen. John Morse, D-Colorado Springs, co-sponsor of the legislation. “This law will save lives, prevent crime and ensure that criminals are brought to justice.”

Opponents, however, say the bill is an “assault” on the Fourth Amendment. The ACLU of Colorado led an active campaign in 2009 to oppose the measure and convince lawmakers not to back the proposal. But with bipartisan support, the bill passed the Legislature.

Critics say it is wrong to take DNA from a suspect who is presumed innocent. Figures were presented last year indicating that nearly 25,000 innocent people will be added to the state’s DNA database every year.

The law allows police to use “reasonable force if necessary” to collect the DNA. 

If a suspect is not formally charged within 90 days, they have the right to ask for their DNA to be removed from the database. The state will need to pay $25,000 to anyone who does not have their DNA removed from the database upon request.

The law is paid for through a fund that stems from a $5 surcharge paid by criminal offenders.

Morse, a former police chief, said lessons should be learned from cases such as that of Katie Sepich. 

“Katie’s story demonstrates how DNA can be used to find and convict violent criminals,” said Morse. “As a police chief I witnessed how horrific crimes can go unpunished when we couldn’t


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Tags

Colorado, DNA, Database, Police

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