California is being sued for maintaining the DNA of people who are arrested but never convicted of a crime.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation is representing the Center for Genetics and Society and the Equal Justice Society along with one individual, Pete Shanks, in the case.
“One-third of people arrested for felonies in California are never convicted,” explained Marcy Darnovsky of the Center for Genetics.
“The government has no legitimate interest in retaining DNA samples and profiles from people who have no felony convictions, and it’s unconstitutional for the state to hold on to such sensitive material without any finding of guilt,” she said.
California long has collected DNA from people convicted of felonies. In 2009, the state began requiring DNA collection for anyone charged with a felony, including those later determined to be innocent.
Giving a DNA sample is not optional. Refusal can be punished by a year in prison, and officers are authorized to use “physical force” to obtain a sample.
“The intimate details that can be revealed by a person’s DNA only increases as technology develops, exposing plaintiffs to ever heightening degrees of intrusiveness,” EFF said. “After collection, the DNA is analyzed and uploaded to the nationwide Combined DNA Index System, or ‘CODIS,’ which is shared with law enforcement across the U.S.”
One problem is that cases have shown DNA samples can implicate innocent people for crimes, “ranging from crime-lab sample mix-ups and sample contamination by forensic collectors, to subjective misreading of complex mixtures containing genetic material from multiple donors, to selective presentation of the evidence to juries.”
Racial profiling is another problem, the critics say.
“The failure to promptly expunge profiles of innocent arrestees exploits and reinforces systemic racial and socio-economic biases,” said Lisa Holder of the Equal Justice Society. “We want the court to recognize that California’s DNA collection and retention practices are unfairly putting already vulnerable poor communities and people of color at even greater risk of racial profiling and law enforcement abuse.”