Bennet Joins Push to Enhance Crime-Prevention Tools Available to Law Enforcement, Improve Standards of DNA Collection

Is Original Cosponsor of Katie Sepich Enhanced DNA Collection Act

Washington, DC – Michael Bennet, U.S. Senator for Colorado, today joined a push to enhance the tools available to law enforcement to prevent crimes by setting standards for DNA collection at the time of arrest.  Bennet is an original cosponsor of The Katie Sepich Enhanced DNA Collection Act, which sets minimum standards for arrestee DNA collection by asking that states collect DNA samples from those arrested for, indicted for or charged with certain violent felonies.  The samples would be compared with pre-existing records in the national DNA databases.

“DNA testing has been an important tool that helps law enforcement officials in Colorado and across the country track down and prosecute offenders and prevent innocent individuals from being wrongly convicted – which leaves the real criminals on our streets,” Bennet said. “This bill will create a national standard and help prevent crime.”

In Colorado, a study by the Denver District Attorney’s Office tracked the known criminal activity of 5 individuals and determined that 47 violent crimes, including 3 murders and 18 sexual assaults, could have been prevented by arrestee DNA collection.

Along with setting standards for DNA collection, The Katie Sepich Enhanced DNA Collection Act would:

  •     Authorize the Department of Justice to award grants to states to help them cover the first year costs of implementing certain collection standards where a state implements a minimum collection process and provide bonus payments for states which use an improved DNA collection process.
  •     Apply current federal law to ensure that any DNA profile of an arrestee who is not convicted is expunged.
  •     Protect the privacy of arrestees.  Information obtained from a DNA sample and submitted to national DNA databases only contains 13 to 15 numeric indicators.  These numbers are not connected to a name or criminal history and do not indicate broader identifying factors like race, medical history or predisposition to disease.   

Along with improving the efficiency of convictions and ensuring that criminals are not able to continue to roam the streets, the bill will also be a useful tool for preventing false convictions.  To date, post-conviction DNA testing has led to the exoneration of more than 200 wrongfully convicted individuals in the United States.  Twenty-three states, including Colorado, have already passed arrestee DNA collection laws.  Colorado’s law was passed in 2009. This bill, which was approved in the House in May, was introduced in the Senate by Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.).

The bill is named for Katie Sepich, a 22 year old New Mexico woman who was raped and murdered in 2003.  Authorities collected her killer’s DNA from her body, but had no match at the time.  They did not know that Gabriel Avilla, who was later arrested for burglary, was her murderer.  Mr. Avilla skipped bail after his arrest and was later caught.  He was convicted three years later.  Upon his second arrest, authorities took a DNA sample and matched it to the Sepich murder.