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Is it fair to keep defendants' DNA on file in California?

Did you know that in many jurisdictions, it is legal to take a suspect's DNA just because they have been arrested? That's right, even if you are never convicted of a crime - or even charged with one - your information can be entered into state and federal databases for future reference. In California, criminal defense attorneys know that their clients' information can be kept on file forever. Opponents of this practice say that Californians - many of whom have never actually committed a crime - will be subject to ongoing "genetic surveillance." This argument has led to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which will be considering California's controversial law in the coming weeks.

Authorities in one East Coast state collected more than 33,000 samples in the three years since their DNA-collection system was instituted. Among that large number, just 13 DNA screenings led to a conviction. That means that 99.96 percent of those arrested in that state were never convicted of any crime, and a large number were never even charged for their alleged misconduct.

In California, almost 100,000 people are arrested each year on suspicion of felony offenses, but more than half will walk away without having ever been charged. Still, the state gets to keep their DNA on file for future reference. An earlier ruling from the Supreme Court this year upheld the practice, likening DNA collection to obtaining a set of fingerprints. Attorneys say they anticipate having more success against the California law, as most other states with DNA policies destroy the records when a suspect is exonerated.

Even if the courts permit DNA collection at arrest to continue, a variety of criminal defense arguments can be raised against the practice. Scientific studies in other countries have largely found that DNA-collection efforts are a waste of valuable police resources and taxpayer funds. The future of the California law still hangs in the balance, as the rights of criminal defendants' are being pursued by an adamant group of advocates.

Source:, "Federal court to hear pivotal DNA collection case as similar laws spread across country" Eric Boehm, Nov. 19, 2013

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Former Criminal Prosecutor With Proven Results