Accused criminals in Vermont do not have to share their DNA with state police, at least until they’re convicted.
The Vermont Supreme Court court ruled Friday that a state law allowing DNA samples to be taken from people who are charged – not convicted – of a crime is a violation of individual privacy rights.
“Your entire genome doesn’t become the property of the state merely because you’ve been charged with a crime,” defense attorney David Sleigh told the Burlington Free Press.
The ruling – which is based on the state constitution, not the federal – is in sharp contrast to last summer’s decision by the U.S. Supreme Court. In a 5-to-4 decision, the high court ruled that police are justified in using DNA to identify suspects and the practice couldn’t be called an unreasonable search and seizure.
“Taking and analyzing a cheek swab of the arrestee’s DNA is, like fingerprinting and photographing, a legitimate police booking procedure that is reasonable under the Fourth Amendment,” Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote for the majority.
Louisiana passed the first law allowing DNA collection during arrests in 1989. Since then, 28 states have passed laws allowing DNA collection of individuals arrested for serious crimes. In 13 states, police can take samples from any person charged with a felony.
Organizations across the country, such as DNA Saves and the Innocence Project, have promoted the laws to help those who have been wrongfully convicted. Privacy advocates, led by the American Civil Liberties Union, have fought the laws in state legislatures and in courts.
Mississippi’s DNA collection law went into effect July 1, overcoming opposition by the state’s ACLU. Efforts to expand the state’s DNA testing remain hamstrung by a lack of funding, prompting officials to turn to the federal government’s “DNA arrestee collection” grant program for help. The federal government spends about $100 million a year to fund states’ DNA analysis.
Vermont’s attorney general’s office – which has opposed the decision – has 14 days to seek a re-argument of the case.