In a controversial decision that some criminal law experts claim violates suspected criminals’ Fourth Amendment rights, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals recently upheld a California law that allows police to collect DNA samples from criminal suspects who have yet to be tried.
The ruling comes after a challenge of a 2004 California law that requires police to take DNA samples from every adult person who is arrested for a felony charge, according to a report from the Wall Street Journal.
Many criminal defense specialists criticized this sweeping law by claiming that it violated suspected criminals’ Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures.
The Ninth Circuit, however, disagreed with this argument, observing that the invasion of privacy faced by criminal suspects through the collection of their DNA samples was outweighed by the public benefit of correctly identifying each suspect.
In its ruling, the Ninth Circuit claimed that the collection of DNA samples, which sometimes involves a cheek swab or some blood removal, is substantially similar to the collection of fingerprints, which has been legal for decades.
The ruling was certainly bad news for the four plaintiffs who challenged the law. These plaintiffs included Elizabeth Aida Haskell, Reginald Ento, Jeffrey Patrick Lyons, Jr. and Aakash Desai, all of whom were once arrested for felonies but were never convicted.
Despite their exoneration, these four people were subjected to DNA sample collections due to the 2004 law. They had argued that such an action amounted to an unreasonable search.
However, in the court’s opinion, which was written by Judge Milan D. Smith Jr., the majority of the judges observed that, thus far, DNA sampling has identified more than 10,000 criminal offenders, which creates benefits for California citizens that override any privacy concerns.
And, while the Ninth Circuit often makes decisions that are unpopular with the rest of the country, this decision aligns the district with the Third Circuit, which made a similar ruling last July.
Despite the judicial momentum towards allowing DNA sampling of people suspected of having committed a crime, attorneys for the plaintiffs plan to appeal the decision, perhaps at the Supreme Court level.
As their attorney told reporters, the four plaintiffs now have their DNA information included in a criminal database, despite the fact that they were all proven to be innocent. Such an injustice, in the mind of their attorney, warrants a prolonged court fight to protect their constitutional rights.