Last year, police stopped a group of boys in Logan Heights for wearing blue and walking in a public park. They collected DNA swabs from all of them, despite a state law that would seemingly prevent them from doing so. A new lawsuit from the family of one of the boys is challenging department policy.
When it comes to collecting DNA from criminal offenders, California law is especially protective of juveniles.
While 2004’s Proposition 69 broadened police authority to collect DNA without a warrant, it put limits on when DNA can be collected from juveniles. Only if a youth has been found guilty of a felony or required to register as a sex offender can law enforcement obtain a DNA sample.
But the San Diego Police Department has found a way around state law. The department maintains its own database — one that’s not linked to state or federal DNA databases. According to department policy, as long as a DNA profile remains in the local database, officers can collect DNA from anyone for “investigative purposes.” The policy requires only that officers get a signed consent from the minor. It doesn’t require them to notify the minor’s parent or guardian until after the sample’s been taken.
A lawsuit filed Tuesday by the ACLU of San Diego and Imperial Counties challenges that policy, and argues that a juvenile is incapable of providing informed consent, especially if he or she is being coerced by law enforcement. The lawsuit also raises questions about which juveniles are being targeted by the policy and why.
It’s not the first time the ACLU has sued San Diego police over improper DNA collection. In 2013, the city agreed to pay a $35,000 settlement and destroy DNA samples police had collected without cause from the family of a parolee.