Court Explores Constitutionality Of DNA Sampling On Anyone Arrested On Felony Charges

from the is-that-legal? dept

Last month, we discussed the legality of so-called familial searches on gov’t DNA databases, especially with states expanding their DNA collection practices. Specifically, familial searches involve noting similarities in DNA found at a crime scene to those in the database. However, without an exact match, police then use the results to look at relatives of whoever was in the database. Where it gets tricky is that many states, such as California, now take DNA from anyone accused of a felony, and keep that DNA — even if they’re never convicted.

Two recent stories update this discussion in interesting ways. The first highlights how a recently arrested serial killer was caught using just such a familial search, after the guy’s son was arrested on a totally unrelated matter. While it’s unquestionably a good thing that a serial killer has been arrested, it still raises questions about the legality of the method by which he was caught. His own DNA was never put into the database (though I’m sure it’s there now), but it effectively got there because of his son.

Separately, a lawsuit is making its way through the courts exploring whether or not California’s policy of storing the DNA on anyone accused of a felony is legal, and judges appear to be mixed on the matter right now, with some comparing it to taking fingerprints, but others questioning why the data should be stored if the person was never convicted of a crime. As the article notes, this is an issue that will almost certainly reach the Supreme Court eventually.

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Comments on “Court Explores Constitutionality Of DNA Sampling On Anyone Arrested On Felony Charges”

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24 Comments
The i-Team (profile) says:

In the UK...

The second item is something we’ve been debating in the UK. In Scotland the DNA is destroyed if there is no charge or conviction made. In England it is retained indefinitely even with no charge or conviction. This has since been declared illegal by the EU and may well be changed to allow a UK policy of destroying all DNA evidence if no charge is made.

Dark Helmet (profile) says:

Hmm...

” judges appear to be mixed on the matter right now, with some comparing it to taking fingerprints”

I’m not sure that holds water. DNA ostensibly comes from living or once living matter. At its most basic , it’s a living extension of a person. Fingerprints are not. Personally, I can’t imagine a more perfect violation of our right to secure our persons than this….

BBT says:

“While it’s unquestionably a good thing that a serial killer has been arrested”

an [i]alleged[/i] serial killer has been arrested, with the only known evidence against him so far being DNA evidence of questionable trustworthiness.

If he gets convicted by a competent jury, perhaps then you can call it “unquestionably a good thing”. Until that day, though, he’s innocent until proven guilty.

Another AC says:

DNA In Database

“His own DNA was never put into the database (though I’m sure it’s there now), but it effectively got there because of his son.”

Having heard this case on a local news radio station, the reporter stated that there was DNA collected in the original investigation, but had an unknown donor.It was still logged into database. Once the Son’s DNA was collected and logged, it would have found a match to the unknown sample. Thus leading to an arrest and possible/probable conviction.

On the other side, DNA is providing a means to have innocent people who were arrested and convicted, exonerated and released.

lux (profile) says:

“Where it gets tricky is that many states, such as California, now take DNA from anyone accused of a felony, and keep that DNA — even if they’re never convicted. “

Considering the entire Justice Dept. is flawed (OJ Simpson anybody?), I don’t mind keeping DNA on record for those who haven’t been convicted. Just because you weren’t convicted, doesn’t mean you’re innocent.

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

Lee (profile) says:

DNA sampling

Take samples at birth and keep them on file. I have nothing to loose. I obey the law only those who are scum bags and try to do the crime without doing the time have anything to fear from this. At the very least to get any form of state or federal ID you should have to submit a sample, and some way to store a digital rendition of it on that ID should be invented so when you present an ID it can easily be verified. I understand that at this time that DNA sequencing takes quite some time but I’m sure that in the near future it will come down to a near instantaneous check.

Anonymous Coward says:

OK… while I feel like I should be “OMG don’t collect DNA from everyone!” I honestly… can’t… why not?

Please tell this confused AC what’s wrong here! So they have a catalog of everyone… great? What’s the deal? How can they abuse this?

Honestly just confused here please no flames or snide comments of “Oh well police will be over soon citizen!”

PRMan (profile) says:

Re: Re:

They just took your kids away because you have many signs of mental disease markers in your DNA.

Also, your health insurance just got canceled because the insurance company found out that you have too many markers of expensive-to-treat diseases. You see, they gave many campaign contributions to Congress, who enacted legislation that these poor companies shouldn’t have to suffer from covering people with “obviously defective” genes.

I could go on… but hopefully you get the point.

If not, watch Gattaca.

JD2005 says:

DNA at Birth

I see no reason why DNA shouldn’t be collected from all citizens at the time of their birth. If you are a law abiding person then why worry about it causing you any harm? Similarly, capturing DNA from new births would assist in the future capture of existing criminals as existing DNA from unsolved crimes is compared to an ever growing database of families as new generations enter the database. If anything, it may create a deterence factor never before seen, as criminals would need to take into account that they could leave behind evidence that will definitely catch up to them one day.

Joe Smith says:

the march of science

The Dad’s dna was in the system from a series of rapes and murders – they just did not know who it belonged to.

The son was arrested for a weapons offence. It was perfectly legitimate to take a dna sample from the son, just like you would take fingerprints, and run it through the system looking for matches. The fact that the program was told to look for close matches rather than perfect matches is not unfair to the son since it has no effect on him and is certainly not unfair to the father (serial killer scum bag that he apparently is).

Wait ten or twenty years and they won’t need to do this. The crime scene dna will be used to generate a “photograph” of the perpetrator which can then be run on facial matching through the DMV database.

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