The Unintended Consequences of Katie’s Law: More DNA Samples Collected, More DNA Samples Untested?

Last month, we discussed a bill nicknamed “Katie’s Law” that would give states financial incentives to collect DNA samples from individuals arrested for certain crimes. At the moment, less than half of the states currently collect DNA samples from these arrestees. If Katie’s Law were enacted, the remainder of the states would likely expand the scope of their DNA collection practices, greatly increasing the number of samples collected.

But once DNA samples are collected, when are they actually analyzed? As discussed by Christopher Heaney and Sara Huston Katsanis in The Contra Costra Times, many states currently have considerable backlogs in testing DNA samples, including those collected from convicts, arrestees and victims. Katie’s Law, by increasing the number of samples that require analysis, is likely to exacerbate these backlogs. Worse yet, Heaney and Katsanis point out that other federal funding awards are determined by the size of a state’s backlog—the larger the backlog, the more funds the state can receive. While the intent of Katie’s Law is to expedite the delivery of justice, there is concern that its practical effect may indeed be just the opposite.

A direct, Constitutional challenge to the practice of taking and retaining arrestee DNA samples, led by the ACLU, is currently wending its way through the Federal court system. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals is scheduled to hear oral arguments (pdf) in that case (Haskell v. Brown) next week and the Genomics Law Report will continue to provide updates as this issue develops.