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DNA and the Fourth Amendment

July 27, 2010 Leave a comment

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Recently, the House of Representatives passed the Katie Sepich Enhanced DNA Collection Act of 2010 (H.R. 4614). The Act would amend the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968 to provide states with financial incentives, through the Edward Byrne Memorial Grant Program, to set up pre-conviction compulsory DNA gathering programs. Katie’s Law – known for Katie Sepich, a 22 year old student at the University of New Mexico who sadly was raped and murdered in 2003 – is only a further step in the growing trend of expanded DNA collection by state and federal law enforcement agencies. It is, however, the first time that the federal government has put a monetary incentive on the implemenataion of such laws; this ratchets up the pressure on states and the Fourth Amendment.

Oklahoma and California are two of the highest profile examples of states adopting laws that require the collection of DNA samples upon felony arrests. The Oklahoma law requires DNA swabs to be taken when a suspect is arrested on suspicion of rape or murder. The California code, however, is more expansive. It again covers murder and rape but it is also includes voluntary manslaughter and any “registrable sexual offense.” This is an unfortunately wide swath of crimes. Depending on the state, you can be put on a sex-offender registry for any offense from indecent exposure to aggravated rape. That is too wide of a spectrum.

The result of adding federal money to the mix of law and DNA is potentially combustible. Let us be honest here, states are always clambering for federal funds to bolster their budgets. This will be no different. I undertand the reasoning behind these laws. Preemptively collecting DNA of suspected violent offenders will create a quick-strike pool in which to compare future samples against. It makes sense. But this is the definition of “the slippery slope.” Implementing, and facilitating the implementation of, compulsory DNA collection laws – for whatever noble motivation – start the government, at all levels, down a path dangerously close to invading its citizens’ privacy at the most basic level. If H.R.4614’s Senate companion passes, I can guarantee that we will see a spate of laws codified with one challenged all the way to the Supreme Court.