NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

What's Legal In Obtaining DNA Samples?

March 3, 1999

New York City police secretly obtained a DNA sample from a man in their custody recently and used it to charge him with three unsolved murders and two rapes. The man had been arrested on an unrelated charge.

Officials would not say how the sample was obtained, but admit that it was not "knowingly or willingly given."

  • Legal experts say the case illustrates the growing debate over how much freedom law enforcement officials should have in obtaining DNA samples.
  • They also say that the detectives' ruse appears to have been legal and, while unusual, was not unheard-of.
  • Increasingly, detectives are using such tactics as following suspects, hoping they will leave a sample of saliva on a drinking glass when they depart a restaurant -- bringing up the legal question of whether the saliva belongs to the suspect or was legally abandoned.

New York's police commissioner has pushed in recent months to have DNA samples taken from all people arrested in the city. New York's Gov. George Pataki (R) is also attempting to get legislation passed to require the collection of DNA samples from all convicted felons in the state.

Civil liberties groups have assailed such proposals as unconstitutional invasions of people's privacy.

Source: David Rohde, "Police Take DNA Secretly and Link Man to Three Murders," New York Times, March 3, 1999.


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