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Sunday, July 14, 2024 | Back issues
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Class Challenges California DNA Sampling Law

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) - A California law forcing anyone arrested or charged with a felony to submit to DNA sampling is unconstitutional, according to a class action in Federal Court. Sampling subjects say the requirement constitutes an illegal seizure of their genetic information and violates their due process rights.

The lawsuit, filed by a group of Californians subject to the law, challenges a provision of Proposition 69, effective since January, mandating that all adults arrested or charged with a felony provide police with a DNA sample. Such felonies include "many offenses for which their DNA has no conceivable relevance," from writing bad checks to cocaine possession, the plaintiffs claim.

Lead plaintiff Elizabeth Haskell was arrested in March 2009 at a peace rally. She claims police told her she would be charged with a separate misdemeanor when she refused to let authorities swab the inside of her cheek.

Haskell "was told she would not be released from jail until after arraignment if she did not provide a DNA sample on the spot and without advice from lawyer," the lawsuit claims. Haskell says no charges were filed against her.

Before Proposition 69 passed in 2004, only convicted felons were required to submit to DNA testing. The genetic data were then compiled into a state-wide database.

The plaintiffs say Proposition 69 allows their DNA to also be entered into the system, and people such as Haskell, who are eventually found innocent of the charges, must wait at least three years for their DNA samples to be expunged from the database. Failure to comply with the mandate can result in a fine and one year of imprisonment, the class adds.

Plaintiffs seek an order declaring the statute unconstitutional and barring the state from seizing DNA samples from felony suspects. They also want the state to destroy all DNA samples collected from them.

They are represented by Peter Meier with Paul, Hastings, Janofsky & Walker, and Michael Risher with the ACLU of Northern California.

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