Does California Ruling Spell Trouble For New Jersey?

Most of the stories you will find on our blog take place in New Jersey or are about New Jersey residents, but this week’s story looks at a court ruling in California. While this ruling does not currently have any impact on how New Jersey runs its criminal justice system, it may one day.

It seems that law enforcement in California can continue a practice that many people believe to be a violation of people’s rights. Unfortunately, the courts agree with law enforcement, issuing an opinion that allows law enforcement to continue to take DNA samples from every single person who is arrested for a felony, even if they are not charged or convicted. Worse, law enforcement can keep the DNA indefinitely and compare it to evidence collected in future crimes. The only way to get the DNA evidence destroyed is by a formal expungement.

Lawyers from the American Civil Liberties Union challenged the practice, but a district court refused to issue an order to stop law enforcement from swabbing for DNA. On appeal, the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with the district court judge. Moreover, the 11-judge panel said that taking a swab of the arrestee’s DNA is just like taking his or her fingerprints.

Even though individuals can have their DNA profiles removed from the system by applying for an expungement, lawyers with the ACLU are concerned that so few people know how to do it. If they can’t easily figure it out, they may not even bother trying.

So, will something similar find its way to New Jersey? Who knows, but if it does, it appears that at least one federal appeals court has ruled that the practice does not violate an individual’s rights.

Source: Los Angeles Times, “Court upholds practice of swabbing individuals for DNA upon arrest,” Maura Dolan, Mar. 20, 2014