While in journalism school, one of my “assignments” was to hang out at New York’s night court (open until 1 a.m. every night), observe the proceedings, and then write about them. It was less exciting than Judge Harry had led me to believe, but was an interesting night replete with drug addicts, prostitutes, and a cheap-date-loving couple who had stopped in to observe as free post-Chinatown-dinner entertainment.
It also introduced me to a 2006 New York law that requires felons to submit a genetic sample to the state DNA database. When informed of the law, one defendant arraigned on burglary charges resisted giving up his double helixes. “Are you willing to issue a court order to make me do it, sir?” he asked the judge.
“Is my saying it to you not enough?” the judge replied. The defendant said: “If you sign a court order, I’ll do it.” The judge asked for a piece of paper, and the defendant objected, “No, I want an official court order.”
The assistant district attorney then explained, in an annoyed tone, that any paper written and signed by the judge qualifies as a “court order.” The judge issued the order, but the man returned 15 minutes later, still refusing to give the DNA sample. The judge set bail and again reminded the dude that the DNA sample was required by law.
Many states have criminal genetic databases these days. As noted by the Genomics Law Report, the LAPD’s using theirs to catch the “Grim Sleeper” serial killer has resulted in a lot of media attention for these databases, despite the fact that they’ve been around for awhile. That’s because, according to GLR, “the case marks the first time in the United States that a DNA search technique known as familial searching has led to an arrest in a homicide case.” The LAPD nabbed the Grim Sleeper after DNA samples from the murders were found to be genetically similar to those of the Sleeper’s son, who had given up his DNA after a felony weapons charge. (Apparently, criminal genes run in that family.)
The attention being paid to the databases is not all positive, though. The ACLU, which has a problem with the way that California compiles its database, filed a lawsuit against Attorney General Jerry Brown last year. It’s now before the Ninth Circuit. What’s the ACLU’s problem with California’s compiling genetic information for felons and suspected felons?