Las Cruces – U.S. Senators Jeff Bingaman and Tom Udall today introduced legislation that expands efforts to collect DNA from serious criminal offenders, with an eye toward solving crimes, saving lives and preventing future crime.
The Katie Sepich Enhanced DNA Collection Act of 2011, cosponsored in the Senate by Senators Charles Schumer (D-NY), Jon Kyl (R-AZ) and Michael Bennet (D-CO), incentivizes states to expand efforts to collect DNA from individuals arrested or charged with serious crimes. The bill is named after Katie Sepich, a promising graduate student attending New Mexico State University who was tragically murdered in 2003.
"Unfortunately, no legislation will give Katie back to her family. But this bill will help deliver justice to criminals, while preventing crimes from ever taking place," Bingaman said. "I want to thank Katie's family for working with us to develop this bipartisan bill."
"With this legislation, we give law enforcement the tools they need to help solve hideous crimes, and keep Katie's memory alive by preventing heartbreaking tragedies like hers from happening in the future," Udall said. "As one of the first states to collect DNA from felony arrestees, New Mexico's program has proven effective in helping to catch dangerous criminals. This legislation will support states with collection programs already in place and provide grants to states that are implementing new programs."
The goal of the legislation - which was first introduced in the 111th Congress by then-Rep. Harry Teague - is to encourage states that don't have arrestee DNA collection processes to implement one, and to expand and improve DNA collection processes in states that do. To that end, the legislation would authorize the Department of Justice (DOJ) to award two types of grants - one for a "minimum" DNA collection process and another for "enhanced" collection.
Grants could be awarded to help cover the first-year costs of implementing a "minimum" DNA collection process, under which states would compare DNA collected from adults who are arrested or charged with certain serious crimes against the FBI DNA database, known as CODIS. Those crimes include murder/voluntary manslaughter, sex crimes punishable by imprisonment for more than five years and crimes involving kidnapping/abduction punishable by imprisonment for more than five years.
Grants to states that have implemented an "enhanced" collection process would encourage states to submit DNA collected for certain serious felonies to CODIS. Those crimes include, murder/voluntary manslaughter, sex crimes, crimes involving kidnapping or abduction, burglary, and aggregated assault.
Arrestees who have their DNA included in the federal database may have their records expunged if their conviction is overturned, they are acquitted, or charges are dismissed or not filed within the applicable time period. Furthermore, the bill provides that as a condition of receiving a grant states must notify individuals who submit DNA samples of the relevant expungement procedures and post the information on a public website.
The bill, which was also introduced today in the House of Representatives by Representatives Schiff (D-CA) and Reichert (R-WA), will be sent to the Senate Judiciary Committee.