Once upon a time, in countries far and wide, rulers such as kings and emperors created laws that all subjects living within their realms were forced to obey. If the king or emperor was a fair and just person, the laws they made served the people they ruled and everyone, for the most part, was happy. But inevitably, there came to the thrones of these lands kings and emperors who were not fair and not just. And the laws that these monarchs made caused suffering to their people.
And so it came to pass that people arose in defiance of these monarchs and demanded change. Chief among the demands of the people was that the law is placed above all men – including kings and emperors. They also demanded that laws would not arbitrarily change and that new laws would not be enacted without the consent of the people.
In other words, instead of the King being the law, the law would be King. And those governed by the “Rule of Law” would have an equal voice in the creation and administration of such laws.
Revolutions were brought and many people gave their lives to bring about such change.
This is why we in the United States don’t have things like “King James Law” or “Queen Anne’s Law”. We have public laws, enacted by our elected officials through consent of the people. We live under the Rule of Law and not under the rule of someone making up laws by which we must live. At least, that’s the way it’s supposed to work.
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Lately, however, we seem to have embraced some sort of macabre fad that ushers in new laws named after people who were victims of one calamity or another. This new law fad has been happening so fast and so frequently that some people have come to call these new laws, “vanity laws”.
You know what I am talking about. I’m talking about Adam’s Law and Mary’s Law and Scott’s Law and God-Only-Knows Law. They are popping up everywhere, in every state, and even on the federal level.
Unfortunately, no one is given a pass in life. Bad things can and do happen to good people. And it is understandable that friends and relatives of people who suffered calamity would want to honor them. When John Lennon was shot out front of the Dakota in New York, people showed up and placed flowers on the ground where he was slain.
Since then, flowers and crosses and pictures and signs and all sorts of memorabilia have shown up on curbsides and fences and everywhere someone perished in an automobile accident or some other tragic event. It has become so prolific that ordinances have been passed to remove these makeshift memorials from the pedestrian way in many cities. While the public seems to have said enough is enough to these roadside shrines, unfortunately, the public hasn’t done enough to say enough is enough with vanity laws.
So, I have decided to start. ENOUGH ALREADY WITH VANITY LAWS!
In a democracy, no law should bear the name of anyone. Remember, we are supposed to live under the rule of law through the consent of the people. We are not supposed to live under Joe’s law at the whim of Joe’s weeping relatives.
I know that sounds harsh. But bear with me for a moment longer and I will explain why I am being harsh.
Let’s start with “Katie’s Law”. If you enter the search term, “Katie’s Law” in Google or some other search engine, you are going to find several different Katie’s Laws. That’s because this craze has gotten so big we are starting to run out of names. But in this case, I am referring to Katie’s Law that originated in New Mexico.
In 2003, a young woman by the name of Katie Sepich was brutally attacked and murdered in New Mexico. Although police had little clues to go on, they did find DNA evidence under the fingernails of the victim. The police entered the DNA into the national DNA database and waited to find a match.
Katie’s parents found out that in most states, a person is only required to register their DNA in the national database if they are convicted of a felony. They reasoned that if the law was changed to require anyone arrested on a felony charge to give their DNA to authorities, then the perpetrator of the crime against their daughter might be more quickly found. And so they started the effort to create “Katie’s Law”, which requires just that. In January 2007, Katie’s Law was enacted in New Mexico. Since then, anyone arrested on a felony charge in that state must register his or her DNA in the national DNA database.
At present, 11 states have laws similar to Katie’s Law and 26 states are considering enacting the law.
Katie’s parents are correct. If people arrested on felony charges are forced to submit to DNA testing, then some cases will be solved that otherwise would not. The actions on the part of Katie’s parents are also understandable. What happened to their daughter was beyond evil and their determination to find the person responsible was and is admirable.
What is not understandable nor admirable, however, is the actions of elected officials who put common sense aside and for political gain, seize upon these passionate issues and usher them into law. When they do this, they do not serve the people. They also do not serve the victim in whose name the law will be enacted.
Katie’s Law is a bad law. And I say that for four reasons. First, there is the presumption of innocence that we subscribe to under the laws of this land. You and everyone else in this country are presumed innocent until proven guilty. This being true, how can we force people who have not been convicted of a crime to give up their DNA? I can see no difference in demanding that an accused register their DNA and demanding that every person in the U.S. register their DNA.
Now mind you, I am not talking about requiring someone who is arrested for a specific crime being required to give DNA to compare to other DNA found at that particular crime scene. What Katie’s Law requires is that anyone – for any reason – who is arrested on a felony charge, must submit his or her DNA to the national DNA registry – where it will forever be kept on file.
Secondly, our laws are supposed to preclude authorities from forcing any person to incriminate himself or herself. Every time a person is arrested, police are required to read them their rights. They are told that they have a right to keep silent. They have a right not to incriminate themselves. But how can we tell someone he has a right to keep his mouth shut but no right to protect himself from genetic testing? What Katie’s Law means is that for any reason what-so-ever, police can submit an arrestee’s DNA into the national database to see if they find a match somewhere for some reason. It’s like trolling for a criminal charge.