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Ninth Circuit Upholds California DNA Act

By Robyn Hagan Cain on February 23, 2012 3:05 PM

A suspect may be innocent until proven guilty, but any suspect arrested for a serious crime in California can be swabbed for a DNA sample.

Today, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a provision of California's DNA and Forensic Identification Data Base and Data Bank Act (DNA Act), which requires law enforcement officers to collect DNA samples from all adults arrested for felonies. California law enforcers have identified more than 10,000 offenders by using their DNA, reports The Wall Street Journal.

The DNA Act requires officers to collect a DNA sample from a swab of the arrestee's mouth after a law enforcement officer determines there is probable cause to believe that the individual committed a felony. The DNA samples are stored in the state's DNA database, which contains 1.9 million profiles. Arrestees who are not charged with a felony within the statute of limitations can apply to have their samples expunged from the database, according to The Washington Post.

Balancing the arrestees' privacy interests against the Government's need for the DNA samples, the Ninth Circuit ruled that the DNA Act does not violate the Fourth Amendment because the Government's compelling interests outweigh arrestees' privacy concerns.

In a dissenting opinion, Judge William Fletcher argued that the DNA samples were used for investigative purposes, and should not be collected without a warrant or reasonable suspicion. He also observed that the expungement process for suspects not charged with felonies is a "lengthy, uncertain, and expensive" process.

The Ninth Circuit majority asserted that sampling under the DNA Act is substantially similar to fingerprinting, which law enforcement officials have used for decades -- without serious constitutional objection -- to identify arrestees. Do you agree, or do you think DNA sampling is more intrusive than fingerprinting? More importantly, is this an issue that the Supreme Court would be willing to hear?

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