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Federal appeals court rules California DNA collection law constitutional

The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit [official website] on Thursday ruled [opinion, PDF] that California's controversial voter-approved DNA collection law [text, PDF] likely passes constitutional scrutiny. This is the second time that the court has looked at the case. The law allows police to collect a DNA sample from any adult arrested for or charged with a felony and to keep the sample in a database indefinitely. Under the law, the DNA may be collected whether or not charges are ever actually pressed. The ACLU of Northern California [advocacy website] filed the federal class-action lawsuit, Haskell v. Harris [ACLU backgrounder], on behalf of Lily Haskell and three other plaintiffs who were forced to turn over a cheek swab of their genetic blueprint to police. In its ruling, the court, sitting en banc, stated that because the plaintiffs conceded that the law is constitutional as applied to anyone arrested for a felony offense, plaintiffs are unable to show that the district court abused its discretion in denying a preliminary injunction that would apply to the entire class. The panel suggested that plaintiffs could bring a case with a smaller class, "consisting of individuals arrested for certain felonies that are not, in plaintiffs' view, covered by [the US Supreme Court's decision in] Maryland v. King [opinion, PDF]." The panel disagreed with the plaintiffs that the California law could be distinguished from the law in Maryland v. King. In spite the unfavorable ruling, the ACLU plans to continue the lawsuit with a narrower group of particular groups of people arrested for felonies.

Collection of DNA from arrestees is controversial throughout the US, and courts have been split on the issue. The en banc court heard oral arguments in Haskell v. Harris in December of last year. In June the US Supreme Court [official website] ruled [JURIST report] 5-4 in Maryland v. King [SCOTUSblog backgrounder] that police may collect DNA samples from individuals arrested and charged with serious crimes. The respondent in the case, Alonzo King, challenged the validity of Maryland's DNA Collection Act [text, PDF] after state officials used his DNA to implicate him in a later crime. In an opinion by Justice Anthony Kennedy, the majority found that the warrantless DNA collection does not violate arrestees' Fourth Amendment [text] rights. Some legal commentators argue [JURIST op-ed] that the US Supreme Court's decision in Maryland v. King correctly furthered the state's interest in solving crimes through the use of DNA.

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