DNA Collection of Criminal Suspects: 3rd Cir. OKs Arrest DNA Check

By Cynthia Hsu, Esq. on July 27, 2011 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

The 3rd Circuit has given the green light for DNA collection upon arrest for criminal suspects. The 3rd Circuit's DNA decision came down to a closely divided court, with an 8-6 majority.

The case that went up for appeal to the 3rd Circuit concerned a man, Ruben Mitchell, who was indicted with a count of attempted possession with the intent to distribute cocaine. Upon arrest, law enforcement officials wanted to collect a DNA sample from him. Mitchell objected to the collection, and raised the Fourth Amendment as his defense, according to the 3rd Circuit's opinion.

The Fourth Amendment protects people from unreasonable search and seizure. Is the taking of DNA of a criminal suspect unreasonable search and seizure?

It isn't, according to the narrow majority of the 3rd Circuit.

First, the 3rd Circuit considered whether or not the act of taking the DNA was an unreasonable search and seizure of an arrested suspect. They determined that it wasn't.

Then, the 3rd Circuit considered whether or not taking the DNA and inputting the data into the national CODIS database was an unreasonable search and seizure. Essentially, the extracted DNA would constitute a DNA "profile" of the suspect which law enforcement could use later when running DNA matches.

The court applied a "totality of the circumstances" test, weighing Mitchell's privacy interest against the government's interest in the DNA collection.

Writing for the majority, Judge Julio M. Fuentes wrote that arrested individuals already have a diminished expectation of privacy. And, law enforcement's need to rule out potential suspects and arrest the correct person was very high.

This high governmental interest in the DNA collection - the court noted that CODIS could rule out thousands of potential suspects - weighed against Mitchell's diminished privacy interest as he was arrested, meant that the DNA collection was not a violation of the Fourth Amendment.

In the dissenting opinion, however, Judge Marjorie O. Rendell wrote that DNA collection upon arrest was unreasonable, considering that arrested suspects do have a privacy interest, which the majority understated. But for now, the 3rd Circuit's DNA decision will likely only fuel the debate over the constitutionality of DNA collection from federal arrestees.

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