New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez, who served as a prosecutor for 25 years, gave a spirited pitch to criminal justice officials from around the U.S. yesterday to push for collecting DNA samples from everyone arrested for a felony.
New Mexico has been a leader in state passage of "Katie's Laws," named for Katie Sepich, who was murdered in New Mexico in 2003.
Sepich's assailant, Gabriel Avila, was charged with the crime three years later ---although he had been arrested in the meantime for other offenses, and a Sepich DNA sample was available.
Martinez, who prosecuted the case, said he could have been charged with the crime much sooner had the law been in effect. She spoke to the National Criminal Justice Association's annual national forum, which is being held near Albuquerque, N.M.
New Mexico passed a law in 2006 requiring those arrested for violent felonies to yield DNA samples. The law was expanded last year to collect samples from all accused felons.
Martinez said the laws were passed only over the opposition of defense attorneys in the state legislature.
At Monday's session, she accused defense attorneys of "refusing to listen to common sense" on the issue of DNA collection, which she said also helps the innocent by making it possible to clear them of accusations more quickly.
About half the states now have passed versions of Katie's law, and a proposal in Congress would provide more funds to states for DNA collection from accused felons.
Martinez urged more activism by criminal-justice officials in seeking legislation that will "give law enforcement the tools [ ] that will make everyone's life easier and will hold people accountable, especially violent offenders."
She contended that in tight budget times, criminal-justice reform does not necessarily require lots more government funding.
The National Criminal Justice Association, which represents states and localities in Washington, D.C., and nationwide, concludes its three-day forum today with more than 200 in attendance.
Ted Gest is president of Criminal Justice Journalists and a Washington DC-based contributing editor of The Crime Report. He welcomes comments from readers.