Local Police Collecting DNA Samples from Innocent Citizens
Collecting DNA and creating databases is a growing trend among local police departments all over the country. While it’s common to take DNA samples from convicted criminals, that information is usually stored in a national database, which local police can’t access. Since DNA collection technology has gotten cheaper, police across all 50 states are now creating their own databases for other police to access for reasons that remain unclear.
Most of the DNA collected does not belong to criminals or those suspected of crimes, which raises ethical issues.
Why Local Police Are Allowed to Store DNA
These DNA databases are separate from CODIS, the national DNA database used by the FBI. A Boston University Law Review article published in 2015 noted that local databases aren’t subject to the same federal laws and regulations as CODIS. Local DNA databases store DNA that is voluntarily given, as opposed to the CODIS. When citizens allow police to take their DNA, they waive certain privacy rights.
Strict limitations govern national DNA databases, but these laws do not extend to local police collections.The samples added to local databases may be incomplete. Lower standards for local DNA databases could lead to meaningless or coincidental matches. Additionally, since police can use discretion when deciding who to approach for DNA samples, concerns about racial and socio-economic profiling arise.
Problems With Local DNA Databases
University of Arizona law professor Jason Kreag stated that this type of local surveillance is a threat to civilian privacy and dignity, exacerbating the problem of racial inequality in the criminal justice system. He added that it undermines the legitimacy of law enforcement.
While it is a common practice to take DNA samples of convicted felons, samples from suspects who have merely been arrested is a developing trend. Police are also asking people at traffic stops to voluntarily provide DNA. There is a reasonable fear that a person may be taken in by police for questioning if they are randomly stopped, based on a DNA sample.
Supreme Court Rules on DNA Samples
In 2013, The Supreme Court ruled that police are allowed to take DNA samples from individuals who have been arrested for serious crimes, even if they were not convicted. The Supreme Court ruling was 5–4, and Justice Antonin Scalia claimed that DNA could be entered into a database even if they are arrested for no reason. However, the ruling didn’t explain the term “serious offense.”
There’s a significant concern that police will misuse DNA collections. Collecting DNA from the population is a very new tactic, and laws have yet to be written to protect citizens’ privacy rights.
DNA has helped law enforcement agencies all over the world solve some of history’s most heinous crimes; however, innocent citizens should be aware of the growing practice and protect their privacy. It may be intimidating to refuse to provide a law enforcement officer with a DNA sample he requested; however, citizens have the right to say “no.”
If you have been unjustly linked to a crime, reach out to the Orlando criminal defense lawyers of the Umansky Law Firm. Our attorneys have 100 years of combined experience protecting our clients’ rights at each step of the judicial process. Call our office or contact us online for a free consultation.