Indiana lawmakers to consider expanding DNA testing

After hearing testimony from a national advocate for DNA sampling, an Indiana legislative study panel is considering whether to recommend that state lawmakers take up a proposal to expand testing to any person arrested for a felony.

Jayann Sepich co-founded not-for-profit DNA Saves to educate lawmakers and the public about the value of forensic DNA testing after her daughter was killed. She said her family learned police in her home state of New Mexico at the time were limited in testing those convicted of a violent felony while trying to identify the killer.

"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 of New Mexico's then-law.

In Indiana, current state law essentially requires people convicted of a felony to provide a DNA sample. At the Indiana Department of Correction, samples are taken from felony offenders upon intake at the facility, according to department spokesman Doug Garrison.

On Tuesday, Sepich told the panel that DNA sampling is a critical tool in crime fighting that can help identify criminals and prevent crimes. The panel ultimately will decide if the issue should be recommended to the Indiana General Assembly.

A similar proposal seeking to expand testing in Indiana by requiring felony arrestees to take a DNA swab failed to advance in the legislature earlier this year, The Indianapolis Star reported.

The Indiana State Police, which handles the processing of DNA samples, estimates that the expansion of testing would cost the agency at least $1 million.

Some are concerned that forcing felony arrestees to provide a DNA sample constitutes as "unreasonable seizure" and would violate privacy, but supporters claim a 2013 U.S. Supreme Court ruling determined it was constitutional, plus the DNA database would be secure.

The man who eventually was connected to the 2003 slaying of Sepich's daughter was arrested three months later on an unrelated felony charge. But his cheek wasn't swabbed because New Mexico didn't have the law at that point, Sepich said, and he wasn't identified until 2006.

"The time to act in Indiana is now," Sepich told the committee. "Before others are raped, before others are murdered, before other heinous acts are committed."

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