A state appeals court in San Francisco Thursday struck down a California law that requires police to collect DNA samples from anyone arrested on suspicion of a felony.
A three-judge Court of Appeal panel unanimously ruled that the measure, when applied to people who are arrested without a warrant and without any charges having been filed, violates the federal constitutional right to be free of unreasonable searches and seizures.
Justice Anthony Kline wrote that the DNA collection “unreasonably intrudes on such arrestees’ expectation of privacy and is invalid under the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution.”
The case concerns “the extent to which technology can be permitted to diminish the privacy guaranteed by the Fourth Amendment,” Kline wrote for the court.
“There is no doubt that an extraordinary amount of private personal information can be extracted from the DNA samples and specimens seized by the police without a warrant, collected and indefinitely retained by the (state) Department of Justice,” Kline said.
The decision, made in the case of a San Francisco man arrested on suspicion of arson of a police car, conflicts directly with a ruling in which a federal trial judge upheld the law last year.
That decision, by U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer, is now being appealed to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals by four citizens who had their DNA collected after being arrested, but were never charged with a crime.
The state appeals court ruling can also be appealed, first to the California Supreme Court and then to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Shum Preston, a spokesman for California Attorney General Kamala Harris, said, “We are reviewing the court’s opinion and will determine the appropriate course of action.”
Since both the state and federal cases center on the federal Constitution, the U.S. Supreme Court would have the final word on both, if it chooses to hear appeals.
But American Civil Liberties Union lawyer Linda Lye said rulings by lower federal courts will not affect California court decisions in the state case unless and until there is a definitive U.S. Supreme Court opinion.
In the meantime, Kline’s 45-page state appeals court provides “a very helpful analysis,” Lye said.
The ACLU represents the four citizens who challenged the law in federal court.
The measure struck down by the appeals court today is part of a broader state law on DNA collection. A voter initiative, Proposition 69 of 2004, gradually expanded the categories of people in the criminal justice system from whom DNA is collected. The provision requiring collection of samples from anyone arrested for a felony went into effect in 2009.
The state court challenge was filed by Mark Buza, who was arrested without a warrant early on Jan. 21, 2009, on suspicion of arson after a San Francisco police officer saw a burning police car.
Buza refused to provide a DNA sample on a cheek swab. He was later convicted in San Francisco Superior Court of arson, possession of an incendiary device, vandalism and failing to provide a DNA specimen, and was sentenced to 16 months in prison.
Buza claimed in his appeal that even though he was later convicted of arson, his conviction on the charge of failing to provide a DNA sample was unconstitutional because he was entitled to a presumption of innocence at the time of his arrest.
Julia Cheever, Bay City News