Analyzing the DNA samples of juveniles who have not been found guilty of any crime is an unconstitutional warrantless search, the Arizona Supreme Court ruled Wednesday.
In a unanimous decision, the justices said the state is free to force juveniles accused of certain serious offenses to provide a DNA sample. Justice Andrew Hurwitz, writing for the court, said that is little difference than fingerprints or mug shots.
But Hurwitz said that legal parallel ceases to exist once the state submits that sample for processing by the Department of Public Safety crime laboratory. He said that processing results in the state obtaining “uniquely identifying information about individual genetics.”
What it also means, Hurwitz said, is that DNA profile is placed into both state and national databases so police agencies can use it to see if a youth is linked to any unsolved crimes. The justices said that, absent a juvenile actually being adjudicated delinquent, there is no reason for the government to have that information.
“Having a DNA profile before adjudication may conceivably speed such investigations,” he wrote.
“But one accused of a crime, although having diminished expectations of privacy in some respects, does not forfeit Fourth Amendment protections with respect to other offenses not charged absent either probable cause or reasonable suspicion,” Hurwitz continued. “An arrest for vehicular homicide, for example, cannot alone justify a warrantless search of an arrestee's financial records to see if he is also an embezzler.”
Wednesday’s ruling could have broader implications.
Christina Phillis, director of Maricopa County’s Office of Public Advocate, noted that other Arizona laws require similar testing of DNA samples taken from adults at the time of arrest. To date, though, Phillis said no adult who has not yet been convicted has mounted a similar challenge to this one.
This case — and the logic behind it espoused by Hurwitz — could provide the framework for the court to consider the issue.
Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery, whose office had defended the DNA testing, did not immediately respond to requests for comments.
The case involves seven juveniles charged with various offenses that lawmakers said require a DNA sample before release.
Hurwitz said there have been no allegations by prosecutors that DNA samples are related to the crimes for which the juveniles are charged. And he said there is no suggestion that any of the juveniles committed another offense for which the DNA profile might provide an investigative lead.
The court also rebuffed claims that pre-adjudication testing is necessary if the youth does not show up for a court hearing. Hurwitz pointed out the state will have the sample that could then be processed.
“The swab remains available for processing thereafter, and no exigency exists warranting an earlier suspicionless search,” Hurwitz wrote.
Howard Fischer, Arizona Daily Star