California Decision Against Arrestee DNA Testing Jeopardizes Public Safety

Aug 05, 2011, 14:29 ET from DNASaves

Murder Victim's Mother Disappointed In State Appeals Court Ruling

CARLSBAD, N.M., Aug. 5, 2011 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Jayann Sepich, mother of murder victim Katie Sepich, namesake for Katie's Law, expressed disappointment with the California Court of Appeals decision striking down the state law requiring a DNA sample to be collected by a cheek swab upon being arrested from committing a felony (People v. Buza).  

"This decision marks a significant step backwards for victims of crime and for general public safety in California.  We expect police to correctly identify persons in custody who may be violent criminals that should not be released.  Fingerprints, mug shots, and social security numbers are all collected for identification purposes in any arrest -- why should police not collect a simple cheek swab to compare against the DNA database in our most serious crimes?"

The Buza ruling goes against a growing number of court opinions that have upheld similar laws, including two other California cases.  In US v. Pool a panel of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of upholding the federal law, and in Brown v. Haskell, the federal District Court of Northern California denied a motion for injunction against the state's arrestee DNA program (enacted in 2004 through Proposition 69).  The judge in Haskell concluded with the statement, "Whatever the parties or even the Court think of the wisdom of Proposition 69, California voters approved it with 62.1% of the vote.  Thus, the public interest likely favors the government." And most recently, in US v. Mitchell, the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals ruled, en banc, in favor of the federal statute permitting collection of DNA from persons arrested under federal authority.  

Ms. Sepich's non-profit association DNASaves submitted an amicus brief supporting the California law, and upon learning of the recent Buza decision, Ms. Sepich stated, "I look forward to an appeal in this case, and given the significant threat posed to victims and potential victims by this decision, I sincerely hope the State Supreme Court will take up the matter with due speed."

In late 2005, Jayann and her husband David began a campaign to expand the New Mexico DNA database to include DNA upon arrest for felonies.  Since their victory in New Mexico, Ms. Sepich has launched a national campaign to pass Katie's Law in every state – to date, 26 states (including California) have passed similar laws.  

"Katie's killer could have been caught shortly after he raped and murdered my daughter if a DNA sample had been taken on arrest for another offense.  But it was not, and three more years passed before his DNA profile was included in the database.  Three years is a long time for a rapist and murderer to be on the streets.  Waiting for a conviction to check the database means justice must wait.   But criminals do not wait.  They will continue to victimize until identified and stopped."