Should Police Collection Of “Abandoned” DNA Be Curbed?


Buffalo police officers collected saliva after a man spat on the sidewalk and used the DNA to charge him in the 1974 rape and stabbing of his wife’s stepsister, says the Associated Press. When someone leaves their DNA in a public place via flakes of skin, strands of hair or saliva, they give up any expectation of privacy. New York State last year underscored the value of DNA by tripling to about 46 percent the number of people convicted of crimes who must submit a sample to the state’s database. To catch up on a backlog, Erie County recently conducted an unusual two-day DNA “blitz.” Hundreds of convicts who “owed” a sample were summoned to a downtown courthouse, where an assembly line was set up to swab their mouths.

University of California law Prof. Elizabeth Joh professor believes it is time legislators consider regulating DNA collections out of concerns for privacy. Police rely on abandoned DNA when they lack enough evidence to obtain a court-ordered sample. “If we look at this kind of evidence as abandoned, then it really permits the police to collect DNA from anyone at any time and really for no good reason or any reason at all,” Joh said. “That’s something that maybe sounds like a science fiction scenario _ police running after people trying to get their DNA, but we really don’t know where this could lead.”


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