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Hraychuck, Harsdorf promote new state DNA collection law

Two western Wisconsin lawmakers are introducing legislation to require that DNA samples be taken when suspects are arrested on felony charges.

Twenty-one other states have implemented this procedure, which is aimed at stopping repeat criminals, said Sen. Sheila Harsdorf, R-River Falls.

"By catching the offender, you prevent additional crimes from being committed," said Harsdorf, explaining that DNA collected from a suspect arrested on one charge could solve other cases.

"Just as law enforcement collects fingerprints and mug shots at the time of arrest, we should take a DNA sample," said Harsdorf. She said the law change would streamline the process and help stop serial offenders.

Advances in DNA testing provide valuable tools for law enforcement, said Rep. Ann Hraychuck, D-Balsam Lake, a former Polk County sheriff.

"DNA evidence not only saves costs for law enforcement agencies by expediting investigations, thereby preventing additional crimes, but it also exonerates those convicted of a crime they did not commit," said Hraychuck.

She added that collecting DNA samples early will help police "solve cold cases in a time-efficient and taxpayer-friendly manner."

DNA samples would be placed in the databank. If the suspect is convicted of the charge resulting from the arrest, the DNA would remain in the bank. If the individual is found not guilty or charges are dropped, he can request that the sample be expunged.

"It's like fingerprinting. That's not saying you're guilty," replied Harsdorf when asked if requiring DNA samples violates constitutional rights. She said DNA collection laws around the country have survived court challenges.

Hraychuck and Harsdorf said the issue attracted interest after it was found that accused Wisconsin serial killer Walter Ellis did not have his DNA in the databank despite a felony conviction.

A nationwide effort to adopt laws requiring that DNA samples be collected on felony arrests is led by Jayann Sepich, New Mexico. When Sepich's 22-year-old daughter Katie was raped and murdered, it was hoped DNA evidence would solve the case, but Sepich learned that only convicted felons' DNA was uploaded into the national database.

The man who eventually confessed to the murder was arrested for burglary three months after Katie's death, but no DNA sample was taken and he disappeared after being released on bond.

After "Katie's Law" was adopted, the man was recaptured, convicted and identified as the young woman's killer, three years after she died.