New York became the first state to pass an "all crimes DNA" law last week, greatly expanding the collection of DNA from convicted criminals. Under the new NY DNA law, individuals convicted of both felonies and misdemeanors must submit a DNA sample that will then be entered into the state database.
The law also expands defendant access to DNA testing both before and after trial. Taken together, the law's provisions are expected to help close unsolved cases, exonerate the wrongfully convicted, and eliminate innocent suspects.
The NY DNA law is presumably constitutional. All 50 states and the federal government currently collect DNA from at least some convicted criminals, according to the National Institute of Justice. Besides the fact that cheek swabs are considered minimally invasive, inmates are said to relinquish some of their Fourth Amendment rights against unreasonable searches and seizures once in prison.
The public good that results from DNA collection also factors into the legality of these sorts of laws. In New York, for example, WKBW reports that the state's prior DNA database helped solve more than 2,900 cases and exonerated 27 wrongfully convicted individuals.
While this subpart of DNA collection law is generally settled, other parts are not. About half of all states and the federal government collect DNA samples from individuals arrested for felony offenses. Courts are split on whether or not this is constitutional, as there has not yet been a conviction.
As a result, most future challenges to DNA collection practices will probably focus on these sorts of pre-conviction laws. The NY DNA law and any new ones like it are unlikely to face any legal backlash.
- Cuomo signs expansion of DNA Databank into law (Ithaca Journal)
- The National DNA Database System (FindLaw)
- DNA Collection of Criminal Suspects: 3rd Cir. OKs Arrest DNA Check (FindLaw's Decided)