Measure to collect DNA upon arrest returns to the Statehouse

By Christina Ramey
TheStatehouseFile.com 

INDIANAPOLIS – After several years of debate, lawmakers are once again discussing allowing police to collect a DNA sample from people arrested for a felony.

“Which will enable us to hopefully catch more felons and serial rapist and murders,” the bill’s author, Rep. Greg Steuerwald, R-Avon, said.

Jaynn Sepich advocating for DNA sampling of arrestees. Sepich shared her story about the reason why she became interasted in DNA sampling at the time of the arrest and why is should be made into law. Photo by Christina Ramey, TheStatehouseFile.com

Under current Indiana law a DNA sample can only be collected upon the conviction of a felony, not when the individual is arrested. 

Jayann Sepich, who became an advocate for DNA sampling after her daughter was killed in New Mexico, testified before the Judiciary committee Monday.

“The only evidence that we had in the case was the DNA that they found in her fingernails where she fought so hard for her life,” Sepich said, “There were no fingerprints. There were no witnesses. There were no suspects. And the only evidence we had was DNA.”

Sepich said if it had been legal at the time to collect DNA upon arrest, then her daughter’s killer would have been caught sooner. It wasn’t until he was convicted of another crime and his DNA was sampled that he was identified as the killer of Sepich’s daughter.

“It was three years and three months after her murder that they identified him,” Sepich said. “But once they got the DNA match he very quickly confessed and he was found guilty and he’s in prison for the rest of his life, but we would have been able to stop him three years sooner if we had this law at that time.”

Sepich helped get DNA sampling at the time of an arrest to be a law in New Mexico and has been encouraging lawmakers all over the country to do the same.

While everyone who testified Monday approved of House Bill 1577, Bob Hammerle, a criminal defense attorney, argues it’s overreach.

“It’s overlooking the fact that when you’re arrested you are presumed innocent and if you’re presumed innocent, I’m firmly against taking these samples,” Hammerle said in an interview.

Under this legislation, the DNA sample would be removed from the database, if the charges are dropped, charges haven’t been filed after 30 days or the person is acquitted.

The Senate is considering a similar bill that is scheduled to be heard in the Judiciary committee on Wednesday. Senate Bill 322 would only remove the DNA sample from the database if the person is acquitted.

HB 1577 passed out of committee unanimously and will be considered by the entire House.

Christina Ramey is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.

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