California DNA Collection: Back in Effect

In December of last year, a California appeals court seemingly broke from U.S. Supreme Court precedent. (See California Court: Police Can’t Take DNA From Arrestees.) To oversimplify: SCOTUS upheld a Maryland law calling for authorities to collect DNA from people arrested for “serious” offenses, after which the California court struck down a similar law. (Maryland v. King, 133 S. Ct. 1958 (2013); People v. Buza, 231 Cal. App. 4th 1446 (2014).)

The California decision was notable: It showed how state courts can rely on interpretations of their own constitutions—rather than SCOTUS interpretations of the federal Constitution—to afford people greater liberty.

But the California DNA Act is already back in effect. In February, the California Supreme Court decided it would weigh in on the appeals court’s ruling. By “granting review,” the state high court wiped out the lower court’s decision. The California Supremes might end up agreeing with the lower court—and they very well might not. Regardless though, California officers are back to taking cheek swabs from people arrested for—and not necessarily charged with—felonies. Those DNA samples then make their way into a state database. (See “Should your DNA be collected…”)

So, the collection of DNA from felony arrestees in California was okay until it wasn’t, until it was again. We’ll finally know the state of the law when Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye and her colleagues lay it down.