The Dakota County Sheriff’s Office is poised to revive the practice of collecting DNA samples from people who have been arrested and charged with violent crimes, but not yet convicted — a procedure that the Minnesota Court of Appeals previously ruled unconstitutional.
Sheriff Tim Leslie announced the plan Tuesday, saying he expects to begin the DNA collection within the next couple weeks. In explaining the move, Dakota County officials said a 2013 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that permits such DNA collection overrides the Minnesota court’s 2006 opinion.
Dakota County will be the first in the state to resume the practice, Leslie said. Other metro counties — and civil liberties advocates — are watching to see what happens.
To collect a DNA sample, the Sheriff’s Office will need a determination from a judge that there is probable cause to charge a person with a violent crime. That was allowed under a law enacted by the Legislature in 2005, until the Minnesota Court of Appeals deemed it unconstitutional as an unreasonable search and seizure under the Fourth Amendment in 2006.
“We thought it was a good law,” Leslie said. “We saw it then as not very invasive. Everybody that comes through the jail has to have their fingerprints taken. We didn’t think taking [a cotton] swab and putting it in their mouth was any more invasive.”
Leslie said the idea of resuming DNA collection came during a meeting with sheriffs and Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA) officials last month.
Dakota County Attorney James Backstrom recommended the collection begin again in light of the 2013 U.S. Supreme Court decision upholding the constitutionality of a Maryland law similar to that of Minnesota’s.
At least 20 other states collect DNA under the same circumstances, Leslie said.
Backstrom concluded that the Supreme Court overruled the Minnesota Court of Appeals’ decision, making the 2005 law valid.
“As soon as you are able to implement the enforcement of these statutory provisions, you should do so,” Backstrom wrote in his legal analysis.
Dakota County will now collect DNA from adults and juveniles charged with violent crimes: murder, manslaughter, assault, robbery, kidnapping, false imprisonment, criminal sexual conduct, incest, burglary and indecent exposure.
Other agencies watching
Not everyone is in favor of Dakota County’s plan.
Teresa Nelson, legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota, said she’s concerned because DNA samples can be treated as criminal evidence.
“It can be years in the time between when someone’s sample is taken after an arrest [and exoneration],” she said. “There’s no limits to what is done with that DNA in between.”
Leslie said DNA taken from an adult or juvenile who is later exonerated would be removed from all databases.
The DNA samples will be sent from Dakota County to the BCA for analysis and entry into databases.
Leslie said the BCA has told him it can handle the extra workload.
“After consulting with the Minnesota Attorney General’s Office, the BCA has notified these agencies we will accept these samples and enter them into the DNA database,” said Drew Evans, assistant superintendent with the BCA.
The Hennepin County attorney’s and sheriff’s offices said they have also been looking closely at the issue of collecting DNA from people who have been arrested, in light of the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2013 ruling.
“There would be a public announcement before any changes to current practice are implemented in Hennepin County,” they said in a joint statement.
Ramsey County’s sheriff and attorney also issued a joint statement saying they are working together “to determine processes that improve our capability to apprehend perpetrators and provide justice for victims of crime.”
“We appreciate the Dakota County attorney and sheriff’s leadership in this area,” they said.