Northern California Record

Thursday, November 21, 2019

Attorney says government has no reason to retain DNA of innocent people


By John Sammon | Dec 13, 2018


SAN FRANCISCO — An attorney has filed a lawsuit in the San Francisco Superior Court against a government program he claims is collecting DNA from innocent people.

“The Government currently keeps DNA taken at arrest, even if the person is immediately released without charges because the police realize they are innocent, unless the person arrested goes through the process of submitting an application and supporting documents to try and get the (DNA) sample removed, and almost nobody does,” Berkeley-based attorney Michael Risher told the Northern California Record. “The Government has no good reason to keep genetic information taken from people who were never convicted of a crime.”

The lawsuit, filed in the San Francisco Superior Court on Dec. 10 on behalf of social justice nonprofits, is suing the California Department of Justice for its requirement to retain DNA samples of anyone arrested for a felony even if the person was never convicted. The suit contends such a procedure violates the state’s Constitutional privacy protections.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation, a San Francisco nonprofit whose mission is to defend digital privacy rights and free speech, represents plaintiffs in the lawsuit. The plaintiffs include the Center for Genetics and Society headquartered in Berkeley and the Equal Justice Society based in Oakland.

Under a state law passed in 2004, anyone arrested for a felony must donate a DNA sample to authorities, a swab taken from the inside of a person’s cheek during booking. The sample is added to a database or index system called a CODIS.

According to a Dec. 10 report by the San Francisco Chronicle, 750,000 such samples have been taken in the past decade but only 1,510 requests have been made to expunge the information (almost 1,300 were granted).

“DNA contains extremely private information,” Risher said. “That means the Government needs a good reason to retain a person’s DNA in its criminal DNA database. But the Government currently keeps DNA profiles taken at arrest forever. The suit argues that the state must remove DNA samples taken from people who, although they were arrested, were not charged with a crime, who had their charges dismissed or went to trial and were found not guilty."

"The California Constitution specifically protects the right to privacy,” he added.

Officials at the Electronic Frontier Foundation estimated that one-third of people arrested for felonies in California were never convicted.

The suit follows a decision by the California Supreme Court last April that rejected the contention the state’s DNA collection procedure violated federal Fourth Amendment rules against unreasonable search and seizure.

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California Department of JusticeSan Francisco Superior Court

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