Federal court: If you're arrested, officials can take a DNA sample
A legal challenge to the federal law that allows authorities to take DNA samples from people who have been arrested or detained – prior to any conviction – was rejected by a federal court.
A federal appeals court ruled on Monday that forcing criminal suspects to provide a DNA sample upon arrest – and prior to any conviction – does not violate constitutional protections against unreasonable searches and seizures.Skip to next paragraph
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The Third US Circuit Court of Appeals ruled 8 to 6 that a federal statute authorizing the warrantless collection of DNA samples from every person entering the federal criminal justice system was “reasonable and does not violate the Fourth Amendment.”
“Given the record in front of us today, we conclude that a DNA profile is used solely as an accurate, unique, identifying marker – in other words, as fingerprints for the 21st century,” wrote Circuit Judge Julio Fuentes in the majority opinion.
The six dissenting judges said forcing arrested suspects to surrender a DNA sample to the government is a “severe” intrusion of privacy.
“The government’s program of warrantless, suspicionless DNA collection from arrestees and pretrial detainees is fundamentally incompatible with the Fourth Amendment,” wrote Judge Marjorie Rendell in dissent.
The action by the Philadelphia-based appeals court overturns a US district judge’s decision, finding the statute and accompanying regulations were unreasonably intrusive of a criminal suspect’s privacy. “The extraction of DNA is much more than a mere progression [from] taking fingerprints and photographs,” District Judge David Cercone wrote in his decision. “It represents a quantum leap that is entirely unnecessary for identification purposes.”
Since 1994, the Federal Bureau of Investigation has been collecting DNA samples and organizing them into a national database called the Combined DNA Index System (CODIS). The FBI system is designed to allow state and local forensic laboratories to exchange DNA profiles and compare DNA found at crime scenes with DNA samples of convicted offenders on file in the CODIS system.
Collection of DNA samples from convicted felons has been upheld as constitutional by every federal appeals court to consider the issue. So far, nine appeals courts have upheld the practice when applied to convicted offenders.
In 2006, Congress expanded the DNA profile law to authorize the collection of DNA samples from arrestees and pretrial detainees. The question before the Third Circuit was whether an arrested suspect or pretrial detainee enjoys a higher expectation of privacy than a convicted criminal for purposes of DNA collection and inclusion in the government’s national DNA database.