California DNA Collection Law Upheld

Anyone arrested for a felony in California can now expect both an unpleasant trip to jail and a demand for a sample of their precious DNA.

To the dismay of civil liberties advocates, a federal appeals court on Thursday unanimously upheld California’s law allowing collection of DNA samples from anyone arrested on a felony, citing a U.S. Supreme Court ruling last year backing a similar Maryland law. A special 11-judge 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals panel rejected the American Civil Liberties Union’s argument that California’s law is broader than Maryland’s and threatens privacy rights more.

California’s controversial 5-year-old law permits collection of DNA from people at the point of felony arrest without review by a judge and even if criminal charges are never pressed, raising concerns that it intrudes on privacy rights for those arrestees who may never appear in a courtroom. Maryland’s law permits collection only from those charged with a serious felony and after a judge finds probable cause they’ve committed a crime.

But the 9th Circuit disagreed that California’s law can be distinguished from Maryland’s, effectively concluding that the Supreme Court ruling undercuts the ACLU’s legal arguments. The 9th Circuit suggested that civil liberties advocates could return to the lower courts and raise narrower claims, but for now left California’s DNA collection law intact.