The only question for Indiana lawmakers weighing a proposal regarding DNA testing is one of cost. The U.S. Supreme Court already has cleared the way to collect samples from anyone arrested on a felony charge. Legislators now must decide whether the estimated $1 million annual expense is justified.
Advocates make a good case when they argue an expanded DNA database could save lives, reduce investigative costs and curtail misidentifications.
An interim study committee heard this week from Jayann Sepich, who began advocating for DNA testing after her daughter Katie was raped and murdered in 2003. Police in New Mexico could not find enough evidence to create a DNA profile of the man responsible. Like Indiana, New Mexico at that time limited testing to those convicted of a violent felony.
"I know DNA is powerful and it is accurate, and I couldn’t understand why we would take fingerprints and photographs and not take DNA," Sepich said.
The General Assembly’s Interim Study Committee on Corrections and Criminal Code is considering the proposal, which was assigned for review after a bill failed to advance in each of the last two sessions. Committee members include Sen. Sue Glick, R-LaGrange, and Michael McAlexander, chief deputy prosecutor for Allen County.
The proposal has faced opposition from some Republican lawmakers. Sen. Michael Young, R-Indianapolis, said he believes police will be too eager to collect someone’s DNA.
"I don’t want to give any more incentive to police officers to arrest people," said Young, chairman of the study committee.
But the authority was established by the 5-4 Supreme Court decision in 2013. The majority ruled DNA testing upon arrest does not violate Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable searches and seizures. In a strongly worded dissent, Justice Antonin Scalia wrote that the decision set a "terrifying principle" and that it "manages to burden uniquely the sole group for whom the Fourth Amendment’s protections ought to be most jealously guarded: people who are innocent of the state’s accusations."
Scalia was joined in his dissent by liberal justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayer; the Obama administration endorsed the majority’s decision.
Indiana now collects about 27,000 DNA samples a year, according to a fiscal analysis of the proposed expansion. The bill filed in the last session included a provision to allow for expungement of the DNA record within 30 days if charges are dismissed or an individual is acquitted.
Twenty-eight states, including Illinois, Michigan and Ohio, have now passed laws requiring DNA testing upon felony arrest.
According to DNA Saves, the advocacy group that Sepich founded after her daughter’s death, the first DNA match made in New Mexico came one hour and 14 minutes after Katie’s Law went into effect.
In another case, a man with developmental disabilities who had confessed to the 2005 rape and murder of an 11-year-old was cleared when a DNA sample matched another man arrested in 2008.
"It’s a great idea," David Powell, executive director of the Indiana Prosecuting Attorneys Council told the legislative committee. "It exonerates the innocent and helps us truly find the guilty."