Law requiring DNA samples from felony arrests up for debate


AUSTIN (KXAN) — Victims of violent crimes and their loved ones are calling on lawmakers to pass a bill that would help police catch more criminals.

House Bill 1399 would require everyone arrested for a felony to give up a DNA sample. 

Jayann Sepich told KXAN it would strengthen an existing bill that was passed more than 15 years ago.

“Right now, it’s only taking for 10 charges after indictment,” she said. “What this would do is take it for every felony arrest at the time of booking or when finger prints are taken.”

Sepich’s daugther Katie was brutally killed in New Mexico in 2003.

“All we had was the DNA evidence found under her fingernails as a result of her fighting so hard for her life.”

Sepich went on to explain:

 “We would’ve found her attacker in 89 days if we had this law, but we didn’t at that time. So it took three years and three months to identify her attacker. But we did through DNA. If it hadn’t been for DNA, we would’ve never ever solved her case.”

Eventually, the federal government enacted Katie’s Law in Sepich’s daughter’s memory. The law provides funding to states to implement minimum and enhanced DNA collection processes for felony arrests. 

She said Texas should pass HB 1399 to collect DNA samples for all felony arrests. 

“We need to use DNA to its fullest potential, so other mothers don’t have to have agony of burying their daughter,” Sepich said.

Monday, Sepich and Ashley Spence met with some lawmakers at the Capitol to discuss HB 1399. 

Spence is a rape survivor who’s hoping the bill will pass.

“He was a serial rapist,” she said. “I know I wasn’t the first and sadly over the seven years, I know I wasn’t the last.”

Spence told KXAN back in August 2003, when she was a student at Arizona State University, a man broke into her apartment and brutally raped her. 

“The entire time a pillow was over my face, and it happened repeatedly for hours, and I never saw the monster that was doing it to me,” she explained.

She said seven years went by without an arrest. 

In 2010, she says she received word that her perpetrator was arrested in Newport Beach, California. He was trying to break into a home where three women were living.

Spence said the man tried to resist, and “in California, that’s a felony, and upon felony arrest, right away, your DNA is taken.”

That sample revealed a hit — all the way back to Spence’s case seven years prior in Arizona. Spence said after a trial in 2016, Kevin Francois was sentenced to 138 years in prison.

“If he had been a Texan, and this happened here, I know that he would still be out there and most likely raping and harming other women, and it’s terrifying,” Spence said. 

The Austin Justice Coalition doesn’t support the proposed change.  

They said they have concerns about people’s privacy.

The privacy interests in DNA include our likelihood of getting certain illnesses [and] our mental health history, and my DNA tells law enforcement not only about me, [but] about my family members as well. 

They also said taking the samples shouldn’t be done until after the conviction. 

We are all still innocent until proven guilty, and we don’t just get to take DNA from everyone, at least not yet. When a person is arrested, they could very well be innocent. Depending on the charge, a significant percent of cases are ultimately dismissed without prosecution.

Acccording to Sepich,  no names would go into the database. There’s only a specimen ID number and that’s only matched back to a name if there’s a match to crime scene data.

Sepich added: “What we’re asking for is a simple cheek swab. The national average cost of that cheek swab inclusive of everything is about $30 per sample.”

“When everything’s done right, you can have closure and justice, and I feel like every survivor deserves that,” Spence said.

House Bill 1399 will be heard by the House Homeland Security and Public Safety Committee. The hearing begins at 8 a.m. Wednesday. 

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