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Supreme Court OKs taking DNA sample from arrestees

A recent U.S. Supreme Court decision upheld a practice that had become common in a number of states already, including California. The high court was asked to consider whether law enforcement officers should be allowed to take DNA samples from individuals who are arrested for serious crimes.

The case stemmed from an arrest that took place in Maryland in 2009. The individual involved was arrested for assault, at the time. Pursuant to Maryland law, the police officers involved in the case took a sample of the man’s DNA. Once taken, the sample was entered into a national database, where DNA collected from unsolved cases was stored.

A search of the database revealed a match to DNA from a rape case from 2003 that had not been solved. As a result, the individual who was originally facing assault charges suddenly found himself charged with rape, as well. He was convicted and sentenced to life in prison.

On appeal, the Maryland Court of Appeals reversed the conviction, finding that the Maryland law allowing the DNA sample to be taken without first obtaining a warrant was unconstitutional.

The U.S. Supreme Court reversed the Maryland Court of Appeals. In the majority decision, Justice Kennedy indicated the practice of taking a DNA sample was a reasonable search – not in violation of the Fourth Amendment’s protection against unreasonable searches and seizures.

Does the Supreme Court’s decision affect California’s law?

Since 2009, California has had a law in place allowing DNA samples to be taken. California’s law is broader than the law that was at issue in the case before the Supreme Court. Under California’s law, a DNA sample may be taken whenever someone is arrested for a felony. In addition, the individual need not be convicted for the DNA sample to be entered into the state’s database.

Some have argued that California’s law can still be challenged, despite the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling, as its scope is broad. Not only are officers allowed to collect DNA samples for any felony arrest, but the genetic information is not automatically removed from the database if the individual is later found to be innocent of the charges or if the charges are dropped altogether. Instead, the individual who faced the charges must submit an application to have the DNA data removed from the state’s database.

Whether California’s law will stand in its entirety has yet to be seen, as cases are currently pending at the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals and the California Supreme Court.

If you are facing criminal charges, seeking the advice of a qualified criminal defense attorney is wise to ensure a strong defense is established on your behalf.