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Kentucky House Passes Bill to Take DNA After Arrests

Police in Kentucky would take DNA samples from people arrested on felony charges under a bill approved  by the House Judiciary Committee.

If the measure is passed by the full Legislature, Kentucky would join the federal government and 25 other states that take DNA samples from felony arrestees, according to the Congressional Research Service.

The panel vote was unanimous. The measure will proceed to the full House for consideration.

Jefferson Democrat Mary Lou Marzian, who sponsored the bill, said federal grant money would be available to help cover startup costs, which would be between $1.3 and $1.6 million.

She did not offer a figure for the ongoing costs of such a program. About 40,000 people are arrested on felony charges each year in Kentucky.

The U.S. Supreme Court will examine a Maryland case this year to consider the constitutionality of the testing.

House Bill 89 would allow someone later found not guilty of the felony charge to apply to have the charge expunged. But the bill would not automatically clear the record.

The hearing was dominated by testimony from Jan Sepich, a New Mexico woman whose daughter Katie was raped and murdered about a decade ago. Sepich, who urged the panel to pass the bill, said the killer's DNA was under the fingernails of her daughter. But law enforcement officials didn't match the DNA to her killer until after he was convicted of another crime and authorities took his DNA.

"I understood that when someone was arrested for a crime, their fingerprints are taken. Their mug shots are taken," Sepich told the committee. "So I couldn't understand why (police) weren't using this incredibly accurate science to hunt down these monsters who were hunting down and slaughtering our children."

Sepich added that taking someone's DNA at the time of his or her arrest saves money. She said the investigation of her daughter's murder cost $200,000 compared to a $30 DNA swab.

Ernie Lewis of the Kentucky Association Defense Lawyers said the bill goes too far. He cited concerns about cost as well as privacy.

"Where do you draw the line?" he said. "Imagine if the bill in front of you, instead of the way it is, would take DNA form everybody who applied for a driver's license?"

Lewis also questioned whether taking someone's DNA after an arrest implied he or she had fewer rights.

"It would also be very tempting for law enforcement, given this language, to arrest someone on a felony, obtain DNA and then have the case dismissed so they could run that search," he said.

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