ACLU of New Jersey Wins Victory In DNA Law Challenge

Affiliate: ACLU of New Jersey
December 22, 2004 12:00 am

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Court Rules that State Must Restrict Collection

NEWARK, NJ – The Superior Court of New Jersey in Mercer County ruled today that New Jersey must limit its new DNA collection law so that it does not violate the constitutional right of freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures.

“The court’s thoughtful and deliberative opinion establishes crucial restrictions upon the retention of DNA information, ensuring that the state’s use of emerging technology does not eviscerate deeply rooted privacy protections,” said Gitanjali Gutierrez of Gibbons Del Deo Dolan Griffinger & Vecchione, one of the ACLU of New Jersey cooperating attorneys who argued the case on behalf of two individuals who were subject to the law.

In 2003, the New Jersey expanded its DNA collection law to require that anyone convicted of any crime, including juveniles, must provide a DNA sample. Previously the law covered only sexual offenders. When the law passed, the ACLU of New Jersey received countless inquiries from concerned citizens.

Specifically, the court ruled that the state must destroy DNA upon completion of an offender’s sentence and must not disclose the information to any other government agency unless it agrees to destroy the information upon completion of the offender’s sentence.

The ACLU of New Jersey challenged the law on behalf of Jamaal Allah, who pled guilty in 2002 to a non-violent drug offense and was sentenced to eight years in prison, as well as a juvenile who was 14 years old in 2002 when he was sentenced to probation for having acted out against a police officer. The juvenile has since been successfully rehabilitated, and is succeeding in school and at home.

The law threatens the privacy of thousands of New Jerseyans and their relatives by collecting personal and confidential information and maintaining it in a database, the ACLU argued in court.

The court today agreed, recognizing that “[t]he primary purpose of the DNA Act unquestionably is to assist law enforcement” and that, therefore, search and seizure protections apply. The court also acknowledged the lesser privacy rights of parolees, probationers and inmates, and held that the state’s interest in obtaining DNA information outweighs the rights of those individuals while they remain under government supervision. Nonetheless, the court found that, once free from government supervision, the state’s supervisory interest dissipates and the individual’s right not to have medical and other identifying information contained in the DNA sample maintained by the government requires destruction of the sample.

The case is captioned A.A. (by his parent and guardian B.A.) and Jamal Allah. v. Attorney General of New Jersey, et al.

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