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The Gazette (Colorado Springs, Colorado)

El Paso County, CO

A mandate that law enforcement agencies keep evidence that "may contain" DNA in felony crimes is creating a storage and tracking nightmare, local authorities say.

The state law, enacted this year, requires DNA evidence in serious crimes such as rape and murder be stored until the suspect or criminal dies.

That means law enforcement officials will have to track suspects and ex-cons, even when they move to other states, to determine when evidence can be destroyed.

It also means a woman raped in a vehicle might lose her car to evidence storage indefinitely rather than just a car seat, as in the past, El Paso County Sheriff Terry Maketa said.

The new law comes after Fort Collins resident Tim Masters' 1999 murder conviction was vacated last year when his DNA was not found on evidence of the crime.

Fourth Judicial District Attorney Dan May shares Maketa's concerns.

While he emphasized that prosecutors support DNA collection as "the best evidence you can get," the mandates are impractical and costly. Historically, evidence involving defendants who pleaded guilty was disposed of on a verbal motion in court.

Another problem is that the bill doesn't define the words "may contain DNA," and it doesn't specify human DNA, May said.

"If someone steals your car, and it's later recovered but we never solve (the case), we still have to hold it for the three-year statute of limitations because (the thief's) DNA might be on the steering wheel," May said.

His office hasn't held on to stolen vehicles as evidence because it's impractical for crimes that likely won't be solved, he said.

The recently adopted measure imposes a $2.50 surcharge on traffic offenses to fund DNA processing by the Colorado Bureau of Investigation. But costs of storing and tracking the evidence are "saddled on the local level," Maketa said.

El Paso County's five-year-old evidence building was thought to be adequate for 20 years. Now, Maketa said, it might fill up in five years.

"Cars and furniture. The bulky stuff, that's what kills you," he said.

Colorado Springs police Sgt. Steve Noblitt said it might not take five years to squeeze the city's evidence space.

"We'll make room and do what we got to do to comply," he said. "But our concerns are that maybe in two to three years we can see our storage area filling up because of this requirement. We have freezers that are filling up also."

Call the writer at 636-0238.

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