Denver DA Mitch Morrissey and the ACLU butt heads over "Katie's Law"

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Katie Sepich
Katie Sepich.
A new law went into affect in Colorado today that will require anyone arrested for a felony to submit a DNA sample. "Katie's Law" is named after 22-year-old New Mexico State University graduate student, Katie Sepich, who was raped and murdered in 2003. Governor Bill Ritter signed the bill in early 2009, although it's taken more than a year to implement as the state accumulated the funds necessary for software and procedural updates.

New Mexico was the first to implement the law in 2006. Since then, 21 states have adopted their own Katie's Laws. Colorado's version was penned by Denver District Attorney Mitch Morrissey, who says he drafted the measure with a strict adherence to constitutional rights.

Still, the Colorado ACLU has been highly critical of what they say tramples on a citizen's presumption of innocence. ACLU spokesman, Mark Silverstein, says that his group would be interested in challenging the law in court.

Thumbnail image for mitch morrissey.jpg
Mitch Morrissey.
"The rationale for the law relies heavily on the understanding that people lose a good deal of their rights to privacy upon a conviction," Silverstein says. "But it shouldn't apply to those who are merely accused. The fundamental tenant here should be the presumption of innocence."

But Morrissey says the law is only an extension of existing procedures that will serve as an invaluable tool for investigators. "We've always taken mug-shots and fingerprints. This is swabbing someone's cheek for the same measure of identification," he says.

Part of the law's opposition is based on a fundamental misunderstanding of its reach, he adds. "Your DNA never gets tested unless you are actually charged with a felony. People who are arrested will have a sample taken, but it will not go into the database until they are charged. If they are acquitted, they can petition to have the sample removed."

While the ACLU acknowledges that the new procedure may be of help in some cases, Silverstein wants to know where you draw the line. "We could solve even more crimes if we put everybody's DNA in the database," he says.

Morrissey counters that any perceived invasion of privacy should be trumped by the good the measure will do. He says that the expanded database will not only aid in cold cases and in exonerating the innocent, but will be particularly helpful in solving some of the more gruesome cases that his department handles.

"Ninety percent of the victims this law will support are women," he says. "They're violent crimes that involve rape and homicide. The last ten percent are kids. This is a science that will help us solve crimes by male predators against women and children."

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