Analyzing the DNA samples of youngsters who have not been found guilty of any crime is an unconstitutional warrantless search, the Arizona Supreme Court has ruled.
In a unanimous decision Wednesday, 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 youngster 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, said in a prepared statement he was pleased the court will allow samples to still be taken. But he disagreed with the conclusion that actually processing the sample amounted to any sort of invasion of privacy.
“We’re not analyzing the DNA to determine peculiar biological conditions or propensities for disease or anything else of that sort,’’ Montgomery said. And he said that those who are ultimately acquitted of any charges can petition to have the information removed from the databases.
“Nonetheless, we will adapt accordingly,’’ he said.
The case involves seven juveniles charged with various offenses which 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 youngsters 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 youngster does not show up for a court hearing. Hurwitz pointed out that the state will have the sample which could then be processed.
“The swab remains available for processing thereafter, and no exigency exists warranting an earlier suspicionless search,’’ Hurwitz wrote.