Privacy advocates suffered a major setback when California’s Supreme Court refused to throw out a law provision that allows the state to obtain and store the DNA of any adult arrested on the suspicion of a felony, reported the Los Angeles Times.
“The DNA Act unlawfully invades people’s reasonable expectation of privacy in their personal genetic information,” said dissenting Justice Mariano-Florentino Cuellar.
The 4-3 ruling was described as a victory for prosecutors by the Times.
While this provision of Proposition 69 was upheld, Justice Leondra R. Kruger was clear that it could still be challenged later on. The ruling, she said, was narrow and only applied to the facts presented in this particular case, brought by Mark Buza, who was arrested in 2009 on suspicion of arson.
Buza was convicted of felonies relating to arson but challenged a misdemeanor conviction for refusing to provide his DNA.
“This maintains the status quo, at least for the time being,” said Michael T. Risher of the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California.
About a third of the 300,000 citizens affected by the DNA program each year are “either acquitted or never formally charged,” according the Times. In one dissenting opinion, Justice Goodwin Liu pointed out that felony arrests resulting in no charges or charges being dropped disproportionately affect Blacks.
“(…)[It] means that African Americans are disproportionately represented among the thousands of DNA profiles that the state has no legal basis for retaining,” Liu wrote.
“64% of California’s jail population is awaiting trial or sentencing as of December 2016.” Most remain in pretrial custody because they cannot afford bail. Jail Profile Survey, http://www.bscc.ca.gov/
J. Bradley O’Connell, who represented Buza, said California differs from other states by taking suspect’s DNA even before they are arraigned. Additionally, the state has no automatic process for expunging the DNA profiles of those who have their charges dropped or are acquitted.
Attorney General Xavier Becerra’s office, “remains committed to upholding Californians’ important privacy interests while doing everything we can to ensure our law enforcement officials are equipped with tools they need to keep Californians safe,” according to a spokesperson.