Court Says Parolee DNA Collection Unconstitutional

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A federal appeals court has thrown out a 2000 federal law that requires federal parolees to give blood for a DNA databank used to investigate crimes. A panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in San Francisco said the law violates the Constitution’s ban on unreasonable searches because blood is extracted from parolees who are not suspected of committing new crimes.

The court did not rule on the constitutionality of drawing blood from prisoners, who are covered by the same law, but it noted that inmates retain some right of privacy. The San Francisco Chronicle says it is not clear whether the decision affects prosecutions based on evidence from the DNA databank.

“Even parolees maintain a reasonable expectation of privacy in their own bodies,” said Judge Stephen Reinhardt. Although the government has desigated only inmates and parolees DNA collection, he wrote, “the rest of us might not be far behind.”

DNA testing has been used in recent years to crack thousands of unsolved cases, and has also exonerated many prisoners, some from death row. Congressional leaders say they hope for passage of a bill this year to provide greater access to DNA evidence in death penalty and rape cases. Statewide, more than 400 cases have been prosecuted from “cold hits” that matched evidence at a crime scene. The FBI has 1.4 million DNA samples in its databank, mostly from prisoners and parolees.

The ruling involved Thomas Kincade, who pleaded guilty to armed bank robbery in Los Angeles in 1993, was paroled from prison in 2000 and refused to give blood for a DNA sample in March 2002. He was prosecuted for his refusal and sentenced to four months in jail.


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