- Associated Press - Thursday, July 9, 2015

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) - A new state law requiring people arrested for violent crimes to provide DNA samples could help solve cold cases and lead to more convictions, law enforcement officials and lawmakers said.

Since July 1, those arrested for violent crimes, which includes murder and larceny, have been required to provide DNA samples to police at the time of their arrests. Previously, the law mandated the collection of DNA samples only from convicted felons and sex offenders.

Attorney General Peter Kilmartin said he supports the law because DNA is one of the most reliable pieces of evidence in criminal investigations.

“It also provides for more effective investigations by assisting in cold cases and providing tools to exonerate the innocent and convict the guilty,” Kilmartin said.

More than 30 states have laws requiring arrestees to provide DNA samples to law enforcement. The law is named “Katie’s Law,” in memory of Kathryn Sepich, a New Mexico State University student who was murdered in 2003. Her killer was later identified with DNA evidence after he was convicted of another crime.

The state’s Health Department has trained police departments in Rhode Island on how to take a cheek swab, a spokeswoman said. The samples will be held at the health department and, according to state law, cannot be put into the state’s DNA database until a suspect is arraigned or has a judicial hearing. If the charge is thrown out, the sample is supposed to be destroyed.

The Providence Police Department has already collected at least one DNA sample, according to a spokeswoman.

Rep. Michael Chippendale, a Republican from Coventry, sponsored the House bill that passed last year. He said he was convinced it was the right thing to do after researching how the law has allowed other states to catch repeat offenders such as serial rapists.

“The positives far outweigh what I see as an unnecessary concern over civil liberties being violated,” Chippendale said.

But the Rhode Island affiliate of the American Civil Liberties Union has a number of concerns about the law, said Hillary Davis, ACLU policy associate.

“We feel this law, first and foremost, erodes the presumption of innocence,” Davis said.

The ACLU is concerned the law also destroys privacy, and that police could arrest someone simply to obtain a DNA sample, Davis said.

“We’ve always said we understand law enforcement needs tools to do their jobs,” Davis said. “When those tools interfere with privacy, we have to question what’s important to us and the efficacy and to what extent it’s eroding our basic rights.”

In 2013, the United States Supreme Court ruled that collecting DNA samples for violent crime arrests is a legitimate police booking procedure and does not violate the Fourth Amendment.

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