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DNA Law Under Scrutiny in Courtroom

DNA Law Under Scrutiny in Courtroom

Thursday, Jun, 14, 2018 04:49PM

Students earning a criminal justice degree or online criminal justice degree need to keep up with changing laws that shape a state’s judicial system. For example, a controversial law that requires anyone arrested on suspicion of a felony to give a DNA sample went to appeals court in San Francisco on September 19. The law, which was passed in 2004, requires officers to swab the inner cheek of all felony arrests for DNA and enter the information into a national database. Some are unsure of the law because it can be considered an unnecessary intrusion of someone’s privacy.

This law requires a plaintiff to give a DNA sample whether or not they have been convicted of a crime. Four plaintiffs are challenging the law, which they claim violates a section of the U.S. Constitution’s Fourth Amendment that includes a ban on unwarranted search and seizure. The DNA collection can reveal personal medical and genetic information. Since the bill went in place, DNA data has been taken and stored from 80,000 Californians per year who have never actually been convicted of a crime.

One plaintiff, Lily Haskell, was arrested after attending a peace rally in San Francisco and was required to give a cheek swab. The woman was released without charges.

“I was told that if I didn’t give a DNA sample that I might spend two extra nights in jail. I felt strong-armed. It’s not right to take people’s DNA and put it in a government databank,” Haskell said.

At the 11-judge panel of the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals were skeptical of the appeal because the individuals that have been arrested are technically still considered innocent. The bill limits an officer's’ authority to examine DNA they collect. Deputy Attorney General Daniel Powell also said that collecting cheek DNA is no more invasive than fingerprinting. However, the Scientific American notes that DNA is a technological progression from fingerprinting and is also qualitatively different.

The report notes that new genetic technologies open up doors that were not previously there, such as familial searching that matches DNA from a specific crime to a person in the database that may be a close relative. This brings up the controversy that the practice could help nab criminals, but could also increase the chances of inaccurate leads. 

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