Crime & Justice

Appeals Court: California police can keep taking DNA samples from arrestees

DNA testing in a lab.
DNA testing in a lab.

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The U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled police in California can keep taking DNA samples from people they arrest. It was a case that pitted privacy rights against public safety — and, in this case, public safety wins.

Four protesters who were arrested at demonstrations in San Francisco filed a class action suit, claiming they were subjected to unreasonable search and seizure when police took DNA samples from them.

California has been collecting those samples since 2004. Police claim they’ve gotten 20,000 hits connecting suspects with previous crimes.

In a 2-to-1 ruling, the Ninth Circuit said the need to solve cases, identify crime suspects and even free the wrongly convicted outweighed any privacy concerns.

Writing for the majority, Judge Mylan Smith went even further, saying that DNA was no more intrusive than fingerprinting and that those who are arrested but not charged can have their DNA records expunged.

But Judge William Fletcher strongly disagreed, pointing out how cumbersome and costly it is to wipe out those records.

The ACLU helped bring the original lawsuit, and may now ask the full Ninth Circuit to reconsider.