NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Are Police Abusing DNA Testing?

January 6, 2003

Police in some areas are using so-called dragnets to round up crime suspects and obtain samples of their DNA during investigations. Although the sampling is supposed to be voluntary, suspects who refuse to cooperate are sometimes threatened with public exposure or a court order.

  • Such coercive procedures bother civil libertarians and constitutional scholars -- who point out that they may violate protections against self-incrimination and unreasonable search and seizure.
  • Furthermore, future prosecutions could be undermined, some legal scholars, defense lawyers and even prosecutors warn.
  • Such dragnets were first employed by police in Britain around the late 1980s, spread to northern Germany and were adopted in the U.S. in the mid-1990s.
  • Some criminologists are calling for a national databank of DNA taken from every American at birth -- solely for the purpose of criminal identifications.

Some observers say such a databank would remove the danger of racial discrimination in DNA testing as well as the risk that law enforcement agents seeking genetic information would turn to hospitals and laboratories -- eroding medical privacy rights.

The federal government's existing DNA database, by law, includes only material taken from existing criminals and crime scenes.

Source: David M. Halbfinger, "Police Dragnets for DNA Tests Draw Criticism," New York Times, January 4, 2003.


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