I recently heard New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez (Rep) speak about Katie’s Law at a Victim’s Compensation Meeting in Albuquerque. Katie’s Law, passed in New Mexico in 2006, originally required law enforcement to collect DNA samples of anyone arrested on a violent felony charge. The law was enhanced in 2011 in New Mexico to include DNA swab samples for all felony arrests.
The samples are placed into a database for comparison to DNA crime scene evidence associated with unsolved crimes.
The bill is named after Katie Sepich, who was brutally attacked outside of her New Mexico home in August 2003. She was raped, strangled, her body set on fire, and abandoned at an old dump site. DNA of her attacker was found under Katie’s fingernails. The murderer was found after they took a DNA swab, entered it into the Combined DNA Index System (CODIS) and found that the murderer’s DNA was in CODIS. He had been convicted of burglary in 2003.
Twenty-eight states now have some version of Katie’s Law, but not all of the laws are similar. In addition to these twenty-eight states, some states don’t have DNA sampling on felony arrests, but do have it for misdemeanor and felony convictions. North Carolina adopted a law in 2010 that requires the DNA for certain felonies but not all.
The state of Maryland has found that in the first three years that their version of the law was in effect, the DNA samples, cross-checked against cold case evidence, have led to 65 arrests and 34 convictions, according to data released by the governor’s office.
As I sat in the auditorium my heart sank and wondered if there is more we could be doing. Katie’s Law is helping find criminals who have gotten away with crimes. My heart goes out to victims everywhere and especially those who do not have closure in their case. Should solving the case be our number one priority?