Supreme Court to hear 'Katie's Law' case

Posted at: 02/25/2013 5:42 PM
Updated at: 02/25/2013 5:43 PM
By: Stuart Dyson, KOB Eyewitness News 4

The U.S. Supreme Court will hear a case on Tuesday that challenges "Katie's Law" - the law that allows police to take DNA samples from people they arrest on violent crime charges.

The law has its roots in a New Mexico murder case from ten years ago.

About half of the states have "Katie's Law" on their books now, and there's even a federal law to back it up - but that could all fall apart if the Supreme Court decides it's unconstitutional.

"Katie's Law" is named after Katie Sepich, a 22-year-old graduate student at New Mexico State University who was raped and strangled ten years ago. Her killer set her body on fire and left in at an abandoned dump site.

It took police three years to catch Gabriel Avila with DNA evidence from under Katie's fingernails, even though he was already in prison on other charges. Katie's parents crusaded tirelessly for new laws allowing police to take DNA samples and keep them in a DNA databank.

Now a Maryland case argues that mouth-swab samples taken without a search warrant are intrusive and unconstitutional.

New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez prosecuted Katie's case when she was District Attorney of Dona Ana County. Now she believes the Maryland challenge just doesn't cut it.

"What happens when someone is arrested for a misdemeanor or a felony - they photograph you," Martinez said. "They photograph all of your tattoos, They take your weight, your height. They roll your fingerprints, your palm prints."

So why not a mouth-swab for DNA?

State Senate President Pro Tem Mary Pay Papen, a Las Cruces Democrat, agrees with the Governor, pointing out that DNA doesn't just convict people.

"It's a double edged sword," said Papen. "It convicts as well as releases people. It's about the people who are committing these kinds of crimes. It's good that we have this tool."

It could take months for the Supreme Court justices to make a ruling after they hear the case in Washington D.C. on Tuesday.