California Supreme Court Upholds the State’s Problematic Arrestee DNA Collection Law

In a shocking move, the California Supreme Court upheld a controversial law that allows police officers to collect DNA samples from arrested individuals. In a 4-to-3 vote, the California Supreme Court ruled that this law, which has citizens deeply divided, is constitutional.


In the state of California, when someone is arrested, DNA samples may be collected in conjunction with fingerprints and photographs. If the accused person is not convicted or charged with a crime, they may request to have their DNA sample expunged from police records; however, not all accused individuals understand they have this right, nor do most of them choose to exercise it.


This protocol is problematic for several reasons, including the fact that an individual may have their DNA collected prior to being charged. Also, the DNA sample may be scanned through a police database and could be used against the individual based on the results. California, unlike some states, does not automatically remove DNA results from databases if an individual is not convicted of a crime. For example, if someone is charged with driving under the influence, but is not convicted, their DNA will remain in the California system unless the individual goes through the proper channels to have the DNA removed. In addition, the DNA may be used to convict the individual of other crimes for which they are not currently under suspicion or investigation.


Not surprisingly, some citizens are pushing back against the statute. A recent court case, People v. Buza, involved a San Francisco man who was arrested on arson charges. Mark Buza refused to allow police to acquire his DNA and received a misdemeanor charge for his refusal. While he was later convicted of arson, he challenged the misdemeanor charge that was based on his refusal to submit a DNA sample. Due to his arson charges, Buza was ultimately required to provide the sample.


A ruling in 2014 by the U.S. Court of Appeals in San Francisco stated that DNA collection for individuals who were not convicted was unconstitutional. Many judges agreed with local civil liberty groups that DNA collection needed to be halted. These advocates believed that DNA collection without a conviction was a violation of California residents’ civil rights. This latest California Supreme Court ruling negates the San Francisco appellate court’s decision and continues the precedent of allowing DNA to be collected from arrested California residents, even without their consent.