By Amanda Creech
Lawmakers on the Correction and Criminal Code Interim Study Committee discussed Rep. Pat Bauer’s, D-South Bend, proposal to collect DNA samples from those arrested for felony charges.
Currently, DNA is only kept in a database for those convicted of a felony.
Bauer, D-South Bend, authored House Bill 1551 for the 2015 session that included this idea. The bill did not advance but ended up as a study committee. The bill would have required every person arrested for a felony after June 30, 2015 to undergo a cheek swab to collect a DNA sample. The bill specified that the sample would be expunged if the person was acquitted of all felony charges, all felony charges were dismissed or no charges were filed after 30 days.
Bauer authored the bill after his wife met a woman named Jayann Sepich.
Sepich and her husband founded DNA Saves in 2008 following the death of their daughter. Sepich’s daughter, Katie, was raped and murdered in New Mexico in 2003 by a stranger. Her killer was arrested on unrelated charges that same year, but was not connected until his conviction for other crimes in 2006. Sepich is pushing for the DNA collection at the time of arrest because she said her daughter’s killer would have been caught much sooner.
“We’ve seen tremendous results in the 28 states that have found the courage to use this crime fighting tool,” said Sepich, co-founder of DNA Saves. “We know this has the power to prevent the unbearable pain that can be visited on so many families.”
DNA Saves is a nonprofit committed to education and changing the policies in states to provide funding for DNA programs and to pass laws allowing DNA to be taken upon arrest.
Sepich said she went to New Mexico legislators in 2008 to create a law that would allow law enforcement to retrieve DNA samples upon arrest. They created Katie’s Law and since then, Sepich said 28 other states have adapted similar laws and not only are criminals being caught for other offenses, but the wrongly accused are being exonerated.
“Three men in New Mexico have been exonerated from rape and murder charges as a direct result of matches on our DNA base,” Sepich said. “Nationwide we’re getting incredible results. California is getting an average of 10 matches a day to their DNA database.”
David Powell, executive director of the Indiana prosecuting attorney’s council said they support the bill.
“It gets us closer to the truth and that’s all we’re interested in,” Powell said. “No one wants to prosecute someone who didn’t commit a crime but on the other hand we know this will solve a lot of crimes.”
Powell did question whether or not labs could handle doing the workload. Powell estimated it would cost between $800,000 and $1 million.
“The lab would have to do a few things,” Powell said. “Our only concern about that as prosecutors is right now the DNA turn-around time at the lab is about 40 days. So if we do this, you all are going to have to help the lab with some financial support so they can take on the extra tests.”
Sergeant Brad Hoffeditz, legal counsel and legislative liaison for legislative state police spoke on behalf of the Indiana State Police, who testified neutrally to the bill but said he expects the cost would be much greater.
“There have been fiscal impacts always with these bills and that ultimately falls on the state police,” Hoffeditz said. “It would save possibly police investigation that we’re not drawing out investigations for a longer period of time but it is going to straight across the board increase our expenditures.”
Hoffeditz emphasized he would neither support or oppose the idea but urged lawmakers to consider how the process would be funded citing the need for more space for evidence brought in and a computer system to handle the Combined DNA Index System (CODIS) information.
“We’re not opposed to doing it, but we want to be realistic about what it’s going to take to make it happen,” he said. “The reason we always testify neutral on this is we’re not going to support or oppose much of anything in this day and age. We’re there to enforce the laws as the legislature deems fit for those to be written. For us this comes down to if this is what legislature deems appropriate then we’ll do it.”
Their next meeting is scheduled for Sept. 16 at 10 a.m. They will be discussing this proposal and any amendments or suggestions.
Amanda Creech is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news service powered by Franklin College journalism students.