05.18.10

Rep. Schiff on the Passage of Katie's Law

CONGRESSMAN ADAM B. SCHIFF
OF CALIFORNIA
IN THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES

 

I thank the gentleman for yielding.

 

DNA is perhaps the most powerful and most reliable tool at the disposal of criminal investigators today. As a former Federal prosecutor during the early days of the DNA revolution, I have seen firsthand the power of DNA to prove the guilt or innocence of a suspect.

In 2008, I proposed an amendment to the Debbie Smith Act reauthorization that would have put in place a 10 percent bonus in Byrne/JAG grants for States to collect DNA profiles from anyone arrested for certain serious felonies. It passed the House with a strong bipartisan vote, but the clock ran out in the Senate. I could not be more pleased that Congressman Harry Teague has taken up the banner on this issue. I hope this year we can finally get it across the finish line.

You have heard the tragic story of Katie Sepich, for whom this bill is named. Katie was a bright, vivacious 22-year-old from New Mexico who was murdered in 2003. Police were able to extract the DNA profile of her attacker from beneath Katie's fingernails, but they got no match to anyone in the offender database. When they finally did get a hit on the attacker's DNA, they discovered that the murderer had been arrested repeatedly for burglaries after 2003, but because he was never convicted, he was not required to submit a DNA sample for the database. Had New Mexico had arrestee testing at the time, Katie's killer would have been taken off the streets years earlier.

There are 23 States, including my home State of California, that have now adopted DNA collection upon arrest or indictment for at least some violent felonies. By doing so, these States increase the power of the national database to solve crimes. The bonus in Federal law enforcement grants provided by Katie's Law will encourage additional States to adopt arrestee testing law. The legislation preserves civil liberties protections by requiring the FBI and the States to expunge the DNA of suspects who are acquitted.

We know the power of this technology. We also know the cost of delay, the cost of an inadequate database, and it is simply this: that as we wait to run these samples or if we miss the opportunity to test the samples of those arrested for violent felonies, we know with a virtual statistical certainty that people we could take off the street, people that have committed rape or committed murder, will, in the interim between the time we do take the sample of the arrestee or between the time we do erase the backlog, will go on to murder others, to rape others. And what a tragedy it is when we have this tool not to utilize it to its full extent.

I want to thank my colleagues for their leadership on this issue. Harry Teague has been a great champion. Congressman Reichert has been a great champion, and we are indebted to their leadership on this. This legislation is the product of years of work and debate in Congress. It will help law enforcement use DNA to solve crimes, and it will keep in place existing civil liberties protections. So hats off to Representatives Teague and Reichert for their leadership on this issue and to Chairman Conyers and to Chairman Scott for their support as well. I urge its adoption.