Federal Court Upholds Mandatory DNA Sampling for Felony Arrestees in California

Did you know that a felony arrest or conviction will result in the collection of a DNA sample? In California, this has been the law since 2004, with the passing of Proposition 69. This law has been challenged through the years, but most recently a federal court decision held that the DNA collection law in California is constitutional.

Under Proposition 69, a person who is convicted of a felony or simply arrested for a felony offense is required to submit to DNA testing, usually by way of a cheek swab. This sample will be stored and can be used to look up past cases involving the same DNA. While many have argued that DNA testing for arrestees is an invasion of privacy and a violation of constitutional rights, the courts have upheld its constitutionality more than once.

In Maryland v. King 133 S. Ct. 1958 (2013), a man arrested on first and second degree assault charges in 2009 had a DNA sample taken in accordance with the Maryland DNA Collection Act. His DNA was matched to an unsolved rape from 2003 and he was charged with that crime. The defendant moved to have the DNA evidence suppressed as it was a violation of the Fourth Amendment, but the Circuit Court Judge found the law constitutional and the man was convicted of rape. The Maryland Court of Appeals then set aside the conviction, but the Supreme Court of the United States upheld the constitutionality of DNA testing for felony arrestees:

When officers make an arrest supported by probable cause to hold for a serious offense and bring the suspect into the station to be detained in custody, taking and analyzing a cheek swab of the arrestee's DNA is, like fingerprinting and photographing, a legitimate police booking procedure that is reasonable under the Fourth Amendment.

This most recent federal court decision on DNA testing in California, which was filed on March 20, 2014, involved an incident in 2009 where a woman who refused to allow a police officer to swab her cheek after she was arrested for allegedly obstructing an officer while participating in a peace rally. The woman sued and lost her case, which claimed the DNA collection law in California was unconstitutional.

In the case, Haskell v. Harris 10-15152 United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit (2013), the court held that California's DNA testing law is constitutional, stating:

…Is California's DNA collection scheme constitutional as applied to anyone "arrested for, or charged with, a felony offense by California state or local officials?" After Maryland v. King 133 S. Ct. 1958 (2013), the answer is clearly yes.

As invasive as a DNA sample may seem for a felony arrest alone, it appears that this will continue to be the law in California for the foreseeable future.

Challenging DNA Evidence in a Criminal Case

In the presence of condemning DNA evidence, a criminal case may seem helpless to a defendant. This does not necessarily have to hold true. Any evidence can be challenged, depending on the circumstances surrounding its collection and handling. A competent Los Angeles criminal defense attorney will know what errors or rights violations to look for in order to challenge the admissibility of DNA evidence or to present compelling arguments as to why such evidence may have been present.

At Lessem & Newstat, we offer criminal defense counsel to clients throughout the Los Angeles area. Though California has a tough law when it comes to DNA testing for felony arrestees, this does not mean a client's case is lost. Find out how we can fight for your rights and freedom by calling for a confidential consultation.