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Secret DNA Database Raises Civil Rights Concerns


We’ve previously written about the largest DNA crime lab in all of North America, and how instrumental it is in producing “evidence” in thousands of criminal cases every year.

In December, police and crime lab officials faced tough questions about whether keeping an unregulated DNA database—which contains DNA from everyone, including innocent people—violates the civil rights of those whose profiles are included. Specifically, several who sit on New York City Council’s health committee expressed concerns that, without any procedures in place to remove the DNA profiles from the database, innocent people are at risk of being mistakenly tied to crimes.

Collecting DNA from Crime Scenes

According to the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, the city currently stores around 64,000 genetic profiles, including individuals who have never been connected to a crime, and have no idea that their genetic profiles are actively being checked against evidence gathered from criminal investigations. Even a few cells left at a crime scene allow investigators to obtain a profile for the database.

Lack of Transparency

The lab refuses to release details concerning the parameters and protocols governing the database to the public, indicating that, instead, it can be obtained by filing a public records request. Some have expressed feeling disturbed by this lack of transparency, particularly since the lab routinely places profiles into the database from individuals who have been exonerated without first requesting permission or having any legislative authority to do so.

Civil Rights Concerns

Collecting DNA from arrestees arguably violates the Fourth Amendment, which prohibits search and seizure without first obtaining a warrant or having probable cause. When a criminal defendant is arrested on one charge, and police officers collect their DNA, and then discover that it is connected to a different charge, this is arguably a violation of the Fourth Amendment because there is no probable cause to conduct a search related to that second charge.

Although the Supreme Court has held that arrestee DNA collection is constitutional, clearly, local governments are now correctly raising red flags over the concern that this not only could violate an arrestee’s expectation of privacy, but every other citizen’s privacy as well, including innocent individuals who, for example, once touched a trash can that later became part of a crime scene, thus unknowingly having their DNA collected for use in the database. 

Work With Experienced Criminal Defense Attorneys

If your civil rights have been violated via your DNA being held and run whenever new cases come up, you should seek the assistance of an experienced civil rights lawyer right away.

At the Baez Law Firm, we have a reputation for not only providing the very best in criminal defense representation, but also in protecting citizens’ civil rights. Contact us today to find out how we can help you.


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