Bill expanding DNA collection to misdemeanors receives initial approval in House

Bill would apply only in criminal misdemeanors

DENVER - A House committee gave initial approval to a bill expanding DNA collection to people convicted of some misdemeanors Friday.

The bill passed the House Judiciary Committee Thursday after several lawmakers expressed misgivings. They indicated their votes could change later.

The bill would apply only in criminal misdemeanors, like some assaults or theft.

State Rep. Dan Pabon took his own DNA sample at a news conference last month announcing the proposal.

"DNA is a tool that works and expanding will make this a safer place for all Coloradoans," he said.

A coalition of district attorneys said they support Pabon's bill.

"Criminals do not follow a neat pattern of only committing one type of offense," said Dawn Weber, Chief Deputy District Attorney in Denver, "We don't see that they only commit a felony or type of felony, so passage of legislation that relates to collection for a misdemeanor conviction does have the capacity to catch and identify these very serious criminals."

If the bill becomes law, DNA collected after a misdemeanor conviction would be entered into a database where it would be compared with DNA found at a crime scene. Colorado began collecting DNA from accused felons in 2010 under the so-called Katie's Law, which is credited with solving cold cases and stopping repeat offenders.

The law is named after Katie Sapich, who was raped, strangled and her body set on fire and left at an old dump site in New Mexico in 2003. Her attacker’s skin and blood were found under her fingernails, and the DNA evidence led to an arrest.

Denise Maes, director of public policy for the Colorado ACLU, agreed DNA can be a good crime fighting tool, but said it comes with serious civil liberty issues.

"It's far more invasive than [fingerpringting]," she said. "Fingerprinting tells you the identity of an individual, DNA will tell you who your family is and what your medical history is. That's now going to be in large database."

The ACLU also opposed Katie's Law.

"You only have to worry about this law if you've done one of two things, you've been found by a jury of your peers that you've committed a crime or you've knowingly and full knowledge have plead guilty to a misdemeanor," Pabon said.

Colorado District Attorneys Council executive director Tom Raynes says the bill would include safeguards to protect civil liberties.