Published May 28, 2009
A California federal judge ruled Thursday that mandatory DNA collection for all individuals facing federal felony charges is constitutional, dealing a setback to civil liberties advocates.
U.S. District Court Judge Gregory G. Hollows upheld the DNA Fingerprint Act, a 2006 law which allows federal law enforcement officials to collect DNA from individuals "arrested, facing charges, or convicted" of federal offenses.
Previously, states throughout the country had a variety of different laws on the books regarding DNA collection---with most mandating testing only after a suspect had been convicted of a crime.
"The court holds that after a judicial or grand jury determination of probable cause has been made for felony criminal charges against a defendant, no Fourth Amendment or other Constitutional violation is caused by a universal requirement that a charged defendant in a felony case undergo a 'swab test,' or a blood test when necessary, for the purposes of DNA analysis to be used solely for criminal law enforcement, identification purposes," Judge Hollows wrote in his ruling.
Federal officials hailed the decision as a victory for law enforcement.
"We are very gratified with the ruling. DNA evidence has proved invaluable in both solving crimes and exonerating the innocent," said Acting United States Attorney Lawrence G. Brown.
At issue was the case of Jerry Albert Pool, a California man arrested in January for possession of child pornography. After his arrest, he refused to submit to a DNA test on the grounds that it violated his fourth amendment right against unreasonable search and seizure.
Hollows wrote that any individuals arrested upon probable cause has a "diminished expectation of privacy in his own identity." He added that DNA fingerprinting is a natural "technological progression" from the use of fingerprinting and photographs currently apart of the routine booking process.
But American Civil Liberties Union officials called Thursday's ruling "an incredible threat to civil liberties."
"We think this ruling is incorrect. It ignores the presumption of innocence and it does not pay enough attention to the protections of the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution," said Michael Risher, staff attorney with the ACLU of Northern California.
While the ACLU is not a party to the ongoing litigation, Risher says the organization is very concerned about the government creating a giant DNA database and using this law to falsely arrest individuals solely to obtain their DNA.
"This gives the police an enormous incentive if they are interested in somebody to simply arrest that person on pre-textual charges in order to get a DNA sample from them," he said.
"There is simply an enormous amount of information stored in our DNA," he added. "We don't know what the limits of that information are. What we do know is that technology is advancing and claims at least are being made that researchers can mine our DNA for an enormous amount of personal information about us."
In the ruling, however, Hollows said that increased DNA collection will actually "help to exculpate" individuals who were wrongfully convicted and said the 2006 law has adequate built-in protections to ensure that the DNA samples will not be improperly used.
FOX News' Mike Majchrowitz contributed to this report