California Law Requiring Alleged Felons to Submit DNA Samples Found Constitutional
Overview: The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals recently upheld a California law requiring that all persons arrested for, or charged with, a felony or attempted felony submit DNA samples for inclusion in law enforcement databases. The constitutional challenge was brought by a class of individuals that provided cheek swabs after they were arrested, but never convicted of, a felony. They requested a preliminary injunction on behalf of a “smaller class” charged with less “serious crimes” and therefore “not covered” by a similar Maryland law upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court last year. The court rejected claimed distinctions between the laws, finding California’s DNA collection scheme constitutional as applied to anyone “arrested for, or charged with, a felony offense by state or local officials.”
Training Points: This ruling reaffirms law enforcement's legal authority to collect DNA samples of everyone arrested on felony charges pursuant to California law. Obviously the collection of DNA samples aids law enforcement in the apprehension of past, present and future criminals and fulfills an important administrative function during the booking process. As always, officers should defer to department policy and procedure when collecting DNA samples as maintaining the chain of custody is essential for future DNA testing and prosecution.
Summary Analysis: In Haskell v. Harris, class action plaintiffs sought to bar application of California’s DNA collection law to persons arrested for, but not convicted of, a felony offense. Under the California Penal Code, officers collected buccal swabs to create DNA profiles of arrestees. Although the plaintiffs tried to distinguish California’s law from the one upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in Maryland v. King, the Ninth Circuit found that the issue in both cases was “essentially the same.” California’s DNA collection law was “clearly” constitutional as applied to the entire class, regardless of varying charges or felonies. Because King foreclosed arguments challenging the constitutionality of DNA collection, the plaintiffs would not likely succeed on the merits. Accordingly, the request for a preliminary injunction was properly denied.