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Supreme Court may put Katie's Law in jeopardy

By Vanessa de la Viña, vanessa@kvia.com
Published On: Jan 14 2014 07:55:44 PM CST

Controversy in Maryland could have a ripple effect on cases in New Mexico.

LAS CRUCES, N.M. -

Could the U.S. Supreme Court rule the swab of DNA that led police to Katie Sepich's killer unconstitutional? A decision on a Maryland case could have a ripple effect extending all the way to New Mexico.

Twenty-five states across the country have laws that allow them to collect DNA samples from suspects arrested for felony crimes.

In New Mexico it's called Katie's Law in honor of Katie Sepich, a New Mexico State University student who was raped and killed in 2003. Police didn't find Sepich's killer until he was convicted of a different crime three years later.

Katie's Law was passed in 2007. It allowed the state to collect DNA from anyone arrested for a violent felony crime such as rape or murder. Last year, the state extended the law to suspects arrested for any kind of felony crime.

Katie's mother Jayann Sepich told ABC-7 she's been waiting for the Supreme Court's decision on this for a long time.

"Had it not been for DNA her case would never have been solved. In Katie's case, there were no fingerprints left. There was DNA that she fought so hard and she had the skin and blood of the man that killed her under her fingernails," she said.

Gov. Susana Martinez was the attorney who prosecuted that case, and she was a key player in passing and extending Katie's Law.

"It's very personal. It wasn't just about that case. It was about all New Mexicans, all people who are involved in crimes, that are victims of crime," Martinez told ABC-7.

Now Martinez has filed a brief with the Supreme Court in support of the DNA law.

Next year the Supreme Court will make a decision on Maryland v. King, a case from 2009.

Alonzo Jay King Jr. was arrested in 2009 on suspicion of first-degree assault.

The state of Maryland prosecuted and convicted King for the rape. The Maryland Court of Appeals overturned that conviction.

King's attorneys said his Fourth Amendment rights to protection from unreasonable search and seizure were violated.

"Right now, we take fingerprints. We take photographs, height, weight, same thing as DNA. I sit in a chair I leave my DNA there. So to take a swab of your cheek is not intrusive," Martinez said.

Martinez said the law has helped solve 380 cases in the state.

If the Supreme Court rules against it, those cases could be in jeopardy.

Jayann Sepich said she's confident that won't happen, saying the DNA database does not infringe on privacy.

"It's never matched to your name, who you are, your identity, unless it's a direct match to crime scene information. The system's been designed to protect privacy. Once people understand that, once the courts have understood that, they've ruled in favor," she said.

For a mother who found some peace after her daughter's murderer was convicted, this battle is very close to home.

"To us it's not just bringing justice, which is so important to families, but it's also preventing these crimes and saving lives," Sepich said.

The Supreme Court will hear the case next year. Sepich said she and her family will be there to hear the arguments and support the law.

She expects a ruling will be made sometime next summer.

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