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Ruling on California genetic sampling ahead

Criminal defense attorneys will be watching to see how the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals will rule on a case challenging the right of police in California to take genetic samples for DNA testing from people arrested on felony charges. The state claims it has helped law enforcement identify 10,000 suspects in the past five years. The American Civil Liberties Union calls it a threat to individual privacy.

Genetic sampling is not new to California. DNA collection has been part of the routine processing of convicted felons since 1998. The ACLU is not challenging the right of states to take samples when a criminal case ends in a felony conviction. The ACLU's position is that not every felony charge ends with a conviction. A felony charge may end in a dismissal or a reduction to misdemeanor charges.

Twenty-five other states have followed California's lead in enacting similar laws authorizing genetic sampling in every arrest on a felony charge. The constitutionality of Maryland's DNA law may be decided by the U.S. Supreme Court after it was struck down by a federal appeals court earlier this year.

Prosecutors point to the impressive number of arrests in previously unsolved violent crime and homicide cases attributed to information obtained from the state's DNA database in support of genetic sample collection. The ACLU argues that the presumption of innocence precludes taking samples at the time of arrest because it results in innocent people having their DNA permanently on file in the state's database.

The U.S. Supreme Court may have the final say on whether genetic sampling prior to conviction is a legitimate crime-solving procedure or an unconstitutional invasion of privacy. If it rules against the state, criminal defense attorneys representing people accused of crimes based on information from the DNA database may have grounds to challenge the charges against their clients.

Source: Fox News, "ACLU challenges California DNA collection practice that police use to solve cold cases," Sept. 17, 2012

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