On October 6, 2009, two individuals who had their DNA collected pursuant to a California statute filed this class action lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Plaintiffs challenged a provision of California law which mandates the DNA collection of any individual arrested for or charged with a felony. The plaintiffs, represented by public interest counsel, sought declaratory and injunctive relief, and claimed that the practice violates substantive and procedural Due Process, as well as the right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures. Specifically, the plaintiffs claimed that the practice infringes on rights guaranteed by the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution because it mandates the DNA collection of all persons arrested
for a felony--without requiring a warrant or that the individual actually be charged with or convicted of a felony.
In 2004, California passed Proposition 69, which expanded the scope of the state's mandatory DNA collection laws, Cal. Penal Code. §§ 295 et seq. Prior to the enactment of Proposition 69, California law provided that only persons convicted of certain felonies were subject to the mandatory DNA testing program. Under the revised statute, which took effect on January 1, 2009, any individual arrested for a felony must provide their DNA for analysis and storage in a national database accessible by federal, state and local law enforcement agencies. Proposition 69 also eliminated language in the statute which provided for the automatic expungement of a person's DNA samples and database entries if that individual's conviction was reversed.
On December 1, 2009, the plaintiffs filed an amended complaint that added two more plaintiffs, bringing the total plaintiffs to four. None of the plaintiffs were convicted of charges related to the arrests which led to the collection of their DNA; three never had charges filed, and one had his case dismissed.
On December 23, 2009, the District Court (Judge Charles R. Breyer) denied the plaintiffs' motion for a preliminary injunction. Haskell v. Brown, 677 F. Supp. 2d 1187, 1190 (N.D. Cal. 2009), aff'd sub nom. Haskell v. Harris, 669 F.3d 1049 (9th Cir. 2012)
. The court found that although the plaintiffs had established that arrestees have greater privacy interests than convicted felons, they had failed to show that this interest outweighs the government's compelling interest in using arrestees' DNA to solve past crimes. The court reasoned that as a result, the plaintiffs had failed to establish a likelihood of success on the merits or that the balance of equities tipped in their favor.
On January 29, 2010--shortly after denying the plaintiffs' motion for a preliminary injunction--the District Court granted the motion for class certification. Minute Entry Granting Mot. for Class Certification
. In doing so, the court adopted plaintiffs' proposed class description. This class description is "all persons who have been, are, or will be, compelled to submit to the search and seizure of their body tissue and DNA pursuant to California Penal Code § 296(a)(2)(C) solely because they have been arrested for, or charged with, a felony offense." Proposed Order Granting Mot. for Class Certification.
The plaintiffs appealed the District Court's denial of the preliminary injunction, but on February 23, 2012, a divided three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit (Judge Milan D. Smith, Jr. writing for the majority) affirmed the District Court's denial of plaintiffs' motion for a preliminary injunction. Haskell v. Harris, 669 F.3d 1049, 1051 (9th Cir. 2012)
. The majority applied a "totality of the circumstances" test, balancing arrestees' privacy interests against the government's need for their DNA samples. The court concluded that "the Government's compelling interests far outweigh arrestees' privacy concerns," and affirmed on that basis. Id.
Judge William A. Fletcher filed a dissenting opinion, in which he analogized the collection of arrestees' DNA to taking their fingerprints. Judge Fletcher argued that because in the absence of a warrant or reasonable suspicion an arrestee's fingerprints may only be taken for identification purposes--and not solely for an investigative purpose--the same logic applied to the collection of an arrestee's DNA. Id. at 1066
. Judge Fletcher felt that this made Proposition 69 unconstitutional, rendering the majority's "totality of the circumstances" test irrelevant. Id. at 1080
. However, he also noted that if he were to apply that test, he would find the "strength of plaintiffs' privacy interests much stronger." Id.
After the Ninth Circuit panel affirmed the District Court's decision, the plaintiffs petitioned the Ninth Circuit to rehear the appeal en banc. On July 25, 2012, the Ninth Circuit granted rehearing en banc. Haskell v. Harris
, 686 F.3d 1121 (9th Cir. 2012). After oral argument on the rehearing, the Ninth Circuit issued an order stating that it would not rule on the appeal until the U.S. Supreme Court decided a related issue in Maryland v. King
. In that case, Maryland's DNA collection laws were being challenged.
In June 2013, the Supreme Court, by a vote of 5-4, held that Maryland's DNA collection laws were constitutional. The Ninth Circuit subsequently ordered both sides to submit supplemental briefs and scheduled additional oral argument for December 2013. Haskell v. Harris
, 727 F.3d 916 (9th Cir. 2013).
As of March 4, 2014, the appeal is still under re-consideration by the Ninth Circuit. In light of this, the parties have stipulated that the underlying case is continued until May 16, 2014.Greg in den Berken - 03/05/2014