Politics & Government

Ky. House panel passes bill to allow DNA collection at time of arrest

State Rep. Mary Lou Marzian, D-Louisville. Photo provided by Kentucky Legislative Research Commission.
State Rep. Mary Lou Marzian, D-Louisville. Photo provided by Kentucky Legislative Research Commission.

FRANKFORT — A House panel approved a measure Wednesday that would allow police to collect DNA swabs from people arrested for felony crimes without getting a court's permission.

If the General Assembly approves House Bill 89, Kentucky would become the 26th state to allow the automatic collection of DNA evidence before someone has been convicted of a crime.

Jayann Sepich has pushed states to pass the measure after her daughter, Katie Sepich, was raped and killed in New Mexico in 2003. The killer was caught using DNA evidence.

Sepich told the House Judiciary Committee that DNA collected during felony arrests in other states has saved lives and freed people who were wrongly convicted of crimes.

She relayed the story of Chester DeWayne Turner, who was convicted of raping and murdering 11 people in California. Before his conviction, he was arrested 21 times over 15 years without having his DNA collected. Another man, David Jones, was wrongly convicted in two of those rape and murder cases and served 11 years in prison for a crime he did not commit, Sepich said.

"One cheek swab at the time of arrest would have saved 11 lives," Sepich said.

Many on the House Judiciary Committee said they were concerned about the constitutionality of automatically collecting DNA from someone who has only been accused of a crime.

Sepich said the U.S. Supreme Court is scheduled to hear a case at the end of this month that is expected to decide whether state laws that allow collection of DNA before a conviction are legal under the U.S. Constitution.

Rep. Mary Lou Marzian, D-Louisville, noted that her bill allows those who were charged but never convicted of a crime to have their DNA removed from the database.

Ernie Lewis, of the Kentucky Association of Defense Lawyers, questioned the measure's legality and said it would cost too much to administer.

"What are we presuming about people who have been arrested?" Lewis said. "Are we presuming guilt at this point?"

Marzian said it will likely cost between $1.3 and $1.6 million to administer the program, but much of the start-up costs could be paid for with a federal grant. The cost of administering the program will go down over time, Marzian said.

She said there is a provision in the bill that delays implementation of the program if there is no money in the budget.

The House Judiciary Committee passed HB 89 unanimously. It now heads to the House for consideration. A similar measure has been filed in the Senate.