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Media Alerts - Haskell v. Harris - Ninth Circuit
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October 31, 2013
  Haskell v. Harris - Ninth Circuit
Headline: Ninth Circuit affirms denial of preliminary injunction against the enforcement of the 2004 Amendment to California's DNA and Forensic Identification Data Base and Data Bank Act ("2004 Amendment") and holds that the Amendment does not violate the Fourth Amendment rights of a provisionally certified class of non-convicted felony arrestees.

Area of Law: Fourth Amendment; Criminal Procedure

Issue Presented: Whether California's mandatory DNA collection requirement under the 2004 Amendment constitutes an unreasonable search in violation of the Fourth Amendment as applied to felony arrestees who were not convicted.

Brief Summary: Plaintiffs, non-convicted felony arrestees, appealed the denial of their preliminary injunction seeking to enjoin the enforcement of the 2004 Amendment which authorized law enforcement to use buccal swab DNA sampling to obtain information from felony arrestees who were not convicted. Plaintiffs alleged that the statutory authorization violated the Fourth Amendment because the collection method constituted an unreasonable search.

The Ninth Circuit affirmed the judgment of the District Court and held that the 2004 Amendment did not violate the Fourth Amendment because the governmental interest in using the DNA information as an effective law enforcement tool outweighed the "de minimis" privacy invasion to the Plaintiffs in light of the safeguards used to limit the manner in which the information could be obtained and used.

Extended Summary: Plaintiffs were arrested in California for felonies but were not convicted. They provided DNA samples pursuant to the 2004 Amendment of the DNA Act. The DNA Act requires DNA testing of all persons convicted of certain offenses in order to facilitate law enforcement agencies in the identification, prosecution, and exoneration of suspects under investigation. The 2004 Amendment expanded the DNA Act's testing requirement to "any adult person arrested or charged with any felony offense" for which a law enforcement officer determines there is probable cause to believe that person committed.

Plaintiffs were provisionally certified as a class by the District Court, filed a complaint, and sought a preliminary injunction against California State officials who administered the DNA collection system. According to Plaintiffs, in allowing the collection of DNA samples from people who are arrested for felonies but not convicted California violated both their Fourth Amendment rights to be free of unreasonable searches and seizures and their Fourteenth Amendment due process rights. They also alleged that the DNA sampling system invaded their bodily and informational privacy rights. The District Court denied Plaintiffs' preliminary injunction and held that (1) the balancing weighed in favor of the State, (2) injunctive relief would not be in the public interest and (3) Plaintiffs could not prove a likelihood of success on the merits, as a matter of law, because the 2004 Amendment did not violate the Fourth Amendment.

The Ninth Circuit noted that a "compelled DNA extraction is a 'search' for Fourth Amendment purposes" but ultimately held that the search was constitutional because it was reasonable under the totality of the circumstances balancing test. The Ninth Circuit analyzed both the physical and informational privacy interests of Plaintiffs and found that felony arrestees have a diminished expectation of privacy. In terms of physical privacy, the Court viewed the buccal swab as minimally invasive to bodily integrity as compared to the body cavity searches and other degrading intrusions to which felony arrestees are constitutionally subjected. In terms of informational privacy, the Court analogized the DNA sampling and fingerprinting, and found that the constitutional and routine use of fingerprinting as a means of identification substantially diminishes the felony arrestees' privacy concerns. Also, the Court found that the requirements that law enforcement officers have probable cause to believe that a person committed a felony coupled with the criminal penalties imposed on anyone who violates the limited authorized uses of the DNA information provide adequate safeguards to informational privacy interests.

The Ninth Circuit then weighed these diminished privacy interests against the government's interest in effective prison administration and law enforcement, and found that the efficacy of the DNA identification furthers four key interests: (1) identifying arrestees, (2) solving past crimes, (3) preventing future crimes and (4) exonerating the innocent. On balance and after distinguishing Friedman v. Boucher, the Ninth Circuit found that the balance of interests weighs in favor of the government and upheld the constitutionality of the 2004 Amendment. The en banc oral argument in Haskell v. Harris is set for December 9.

Panel: Judges Fletcher, Smith, Todd

Date of Issued Opinion: February 23, 2012

Docket Number: 3:09-cv-04779-CRB

Decided: Affirmed

Case Alert Author:

Author of Opinion: Judge Smith

Case Alert Circuit Supervisor:

    Posted By: Glenn Koppel @ 10/31/2013 03:58 PM     9th Circuit  

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