Five years ago today, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the legality of collecting DNA from those who are arrested for committing serious crimes. In Maryland v. King, the Supreme Court issued one of the most consequential rulings in its history, allowing law enforcement to use a critically important tool that saves lives, prevents crimes and brings criminals – such as rapists and murderers – to justice.
Likened by the Supreme Court to a modern-day fingerprint, DNA collected from an arrestee is able to be compared against DNA taken from crime scenes across America. In New Mexico alone, felony arrestee DNA has been matched to more than 1,500 cold cases since 2007. And in Maryland v. King, Alonzo King’s DNA from an arrest in 2009 linked him to a rape from six years earlier, and his conviction for that rape was upheld.
New Mexico has been a leader in the national movement to expand the collection of DNA from arrestees. Katie’s Law, as our statute is known, was named in honor of Katie Sepich and was enacted in 2006. Katie was a New Mexico State University student who was raped, kidnapped, strangled to death, set on fire and abandoned in August of 2003. Skin and blood under her fingernails yielded DNA that was eventually linked to her murderer, whom I prosecuted as a district attorney in 2006. Katie’s killer had been arrested for a felony crime just two months after her death, but because New Mexico did not have a law allowing for DNA to be collected upon arrest, Katie’s murder went unsolved for nearly three years.