DNA Collection Upon Arrest

So, California takes DNA samples from anyone arrested for a felony and keeps it on file, conviction or not.

An appeals court is looking at the law.
My question is - why not? We’ve been collecting fingerprint data for decades to compare against latent prints at a crime scene. The progression of technology has given us DNA identification and one day it will be as fast as it is on Law & Order.

Why can’t we simply shift or augment fingerprints with DNA from everyone arrested.
The current argument against the law is 4th ammendment-based.

Is a swab or haircut more private than a fingerprint?

The collecting of fingerprints has caught so many criminals.
Old DNA evidence has caught many criminals previously unknown to the police until they’re convicted of a felony, sent to prison, DNA collected and put into a database.
Eventually some cold-case squad will run the case again, and Bingo - you have your man.
I say collect prints and spit from anyone arrested, and we’ll see more crimes solved.

What slippery slope or unintended consequence am I missing?

Interesting question. My guess would be that DNA collection would come under “self incrimination”.
There was a case a few years back in MA-the suspect was in jail for another crime. His interrogators asked him if he wanted a cigarette/coffee, etc.-he did. His DNA was collected from the cup-it served to convict him.
His lawyer was ‘outraged’, but the judge found the DNA had been collected lawfully, as the prisoner was not coerced.

I think one major issue is that DNA inherently contains a lot more information about a person than does a fingerprint. From a print, you can’t tell anything except that “this person was here” and perhaps a bit about their physical size. DNA can theoretically tell you a whole lot more, though as yet we don’t know enough for that to be practical. You could learn a lot about a person from their DNA, including things that would be irrelevant to any criminal investigation, such as medical issues that some would argue we have the right to keep private.

That’s how it works in France : they keep on file the DNA of all people sampled in connection with a sex crime for some absurdly long period (say, 30 years).

I’m vehemently opposed to this practice (and by the way, the same would be true for keeping fingerprints of exonerated people). Even though we currently live in a free society, there’s no guarantee that these informations won’t ever be used for a nefarious purpose. Nor that the databases won’t ever be hacked for maybe less nefarious but still condemnable reasons.

In one famous case (both in France and the UK since the victim was a young British teen) they took DNA samples of the whole male population of an entire village (without result). Only one person refused to show up for the sampling. Of course, this made him a prime suspect, and the police got a warrant to retrieve DNA from his house.

I would refuse to willingly submit to a DNA test if I were suspected of a crime, specifically because they keep this data. Too bad if it delays the investigation. Of course, they would get a warrant in quick order so it wouldn’t change a thing in the end :mad:

The other thing is that probably 99% of the time, DNA is only relevant in sex crimes. Taking DNA from a petty theif is like saying “we expect you’ll be doing sadistic rape-murder next.”

Would you be outraged if they took photos of your genitals upon arrest (like they did with Michael Jackson) on the theory that innocent or guilty, we’ll be able to identify you on the off chance we can use this detail for identification…?

What about having the whole family arrested and sampled , father, brothers, grandfather, male cousins, on the theory that the perp is somehow related to the person we already arrested and sampled? One “wild oat” (or even “son of wild oat”) could put a cloud over the whole family. It’s not unheard of for a male to not be told, not realize they have children - who might then destroy an innocent family. Or, someone may not know they were adopted…

The question is - what will police do with this information?

Can a woman when seeking a divorce demand a database check of the entire USA genome database to determine if her soon-to-be-ex has any other children floating around? Or that her husband has relatives who have criminal records? Will we do a database search for unacknowledges offspring of famous people?

Watch the movie GATACCA someday…

Wow. Paranoid, much?
Why would you assume that cellular data is treated any different than fingerprints?
When arrested, your description typically includes physical characteristics like height, scars, tattoos, birthmarks, etc. Do we currently use any of that against anyone?
In jurisdictions where we already collect DNA from convicts, do we go on fishing expeditions through that information? Not that I know of, and why would we start?

Petty criminals often escalate their crimes, but even if Bob only breaks into houses to make a sandwich and watch pay-per-view and then skedaddle, we want him caught, right? What if he breaks a window like always, but this time cuts himself and leaves some blood? If he’s on file, we have him. If not, the DNA goes on file, and the next time he’s arrested, we have him. BTW murder scenes often have perp DNA that can be useful. The more I think about it, the more I like it.
I know I come to legal issues from the perspective of an innocent person rather than the ACLU, but scum victimizing good people makes my blood boil, so I’m always for the one weird trick that will stop or catch them.

I read the book about the British case you mentioned. I would be first in line to help narrow a search for someone. Maybe that’s just me.

If it became cheap and easy enough like in gattaca, I wouldnt even object to filing everyones dna upon birth.

Do you trust the under-staffed, under-funded, and under-trained evidence technicians to collect and handle your sample correctly, and to evaluate crime scene samples correctly? We’re talking about state employees here. They’re all vulnerable to having their budgets cut and their headcount reduced with no reduction in workload. If it’s a private lab that the state contracts with, can you be sure that the lab doesn’t have a perverse incentive to misstate the evidence in favor of the prosecution, in order to encourage the state to give the lab more business? If you’re wrongfully tied to a heinous crime, are you confident that the system will quickly figure out and rectify its mistake?

Right, because the system in Gattaca wasn’t abusive at all.

Cellular data?? I assume you mean DNA, to see what I did with my cellular phone, you need a warrant. Rightly so. Another example of where even though the data exists, it is not filed with the police for their perusal on the flimsiest of reasons.

Not sure, but did arrest description include circumsized or not? I’ve never seen it mentioned. Nor do I recall any cop show where they strip the person looking for tatoos on arrest. So, no, not EVERYTHING is recorded when you are arrested.

Because you can with the data available? Because computers make it easy?
Son of Sam was the first case I heard of of database mining, where the entire NY State auto registration was matched with driver license information to find a guy the right description driving a gold volkswagen. Guess what? Reports of the gold volkswagen were mistaken. (Remeber the DC Snipers’ white van?) It was a major waste of time. Today computers can spit out the lists wholesale, you may end up on police radar through a complete coincidence and they be harassed fo no good reason.

Not every petty criminal graduates to the level of murder that leaves DNA behind. In fact, very few of them do.

Conan Doyle in the 1890’s wrote a story about a bogus fingerprint planted at the scene of the crime. If all I have to do to plant reasonable doubt is to plant someone else’s DNA then what’s the value of a DNA database?

the ACLU is not there to defend criminals; it’s there to prevent the police from being able to walk all over innocent citizens if they jump to the conclusion that they are guilty or don’t care if they are innocent or not; by forcing the police to pay close attention to exactly what they do and how. We don’t allow police access to our financial activity without a record; our cellular GPS track; they can’t listen in on our phone calls; the SCOTUS will decide soon IIRC about whether a warrant is needed to even put a GPS tracker on a car if you suspect someone. Police can’t walk into your house without a warrant…

Why should your complete biological data be any less private. If the collection were more restrictive - convicted of violent crime over 2 years sentence, or some such - I would understand. For now, they can arrest you for whatever reason, take the DNA, and then see if it matches any existing crimes. Sounds like a reason for police to arrest someone suspected of a crime, rather than going through the hassle of a court warrant. “the driver appeared intoxicated, so we took him to the station and booked him.” If the intent is to check DNA for future crimes, it could wait until conviction to collect. If the intent is to check past crimes, then a warrant should be forthcoming.

In the case of the British (or was it Australian?) town you mentioned, I would refuse the request because “I know I’m not guilty, so why should I let you waste time and taxpayer dollars investigating me? Look elsewhere.” If the only proof they have is that I live in the town - well, I suppose that a judge that grants a warrant based on that is as short-sighted as the police. If they start a witch-hunt against the wrong person based solely on the person’s personal principles, well, they are not doing the job they were hired to do, are they?

(In that case - how could hey be sure it was not a person passing through town, for example?)

Fingerprints at time of arrest have another important function- to make sure they are booking the right person.

I have to say I disagree with the idea of taking DNA upon a arrest- as they can pretty well arrest anyone at any time, they need no evidence or anything.

There was also a case in western Canada about 20 years ago, where a doctor was accused by a patient and also his a teenage stepdaughter of drugging and rape. The father was a well-respected doctor in the small town, and procedures were somewhat lax in those days. They took a blood sample - apparently, he said “here, let me, I’m a doctor” and took his own sample in front of the medical tech.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Schneeberger

He had apparently filled a small tube with a patient’s blood and inserted into his forearm under the skin because he knew he was being tested that day. Needless to say, the sample did not match for the crime and he evaded prosecution for years.

The other problem with DNA evidence is it is not a substitute for real evidence. Like fingerprints, it only tells you one thing. Once it is known to be something police look for, expect every criminal to have some trick to obfuscate evidence - like many do with fingerprints.

I wonder if any one has ever raided a hair shops dumpster before for that reason.

The legal issue is the reasonableness of the “search” involved (you’re already under arrest, so “seizure” isn’t at issue). The Maryland Court of Appeals (their high court) ruled earlier this year that taking DNA samples upon arrest for violent crimes and burglaries violates the right to be free from unreasonable searches. Chief Justice Roberts of the Supreme Court of the United States has issued a stay of this decision while the Court decides whether or not to take up the Petition for Writ of Certiorari filed by Maryland.

From a brief legal review, it appears that state appellate courts have generally found the practice a violation of the right to be free from unreasonable searches, but federal appellate courts have ruled the opposite way. The 3rd District ruled in favor of DNA swabs in July of 2011; the SCotUS refused to take up the case. As the OP notes, a 9th Circuit panel ruled in favor of California’s law, but the circuit as a whole has voted to reconsider this ruling. It may be that the Maryland case ends up being the catalyst for the SCotUS to enter into the discussion.

But it’s one thing to take samples in furtherance of an investigation, when you’ve been arrested on suspicion of the crime. (Which IMHO should still warrant a warrant) It’s another to take a sample off anyone the police decide to haul off the street, no matter what the reason or valididty - then add that sample to a database to be compared for past and future offenses entirely unrelated to the alleged offense that the person was arrested for (but not yet convicted of).

As another example of justice gone horribly askew thanks to such databases, look at the case of the muslim activist arrested in Oregon for the Madrid train bombings; based on a poorly mismatched fingerprint and despite no proof of any connection to Madrid.


Held for 2 weeks, not told of the charges, “100%” match to fingerprint the FBI says - as were 20 others apparently. Needless to say, he won the follow-up lawsuit.

Gotta love databases.

Also note that a lot of DNA can be degraded, meaning the sample from the scene may not have enough detail to do much more than match to 1-in-1000 probablility rather than the 1-in-billions normally expected of a DNA test. 1-in-1000 just means that yo are one unlucky bastard, not definitively guilty.