How do you feel about your DNA being collected and stored before ever being convicted of a crime? Some states have adopted a version of this policy, where the government collects DNA samples after every arrest. Thankfully, Nevada is not one of those states – yet. The ACLU of Nevada has helped fight off automatic DNA collection after felony arrests in 2011, but it could resurface in the next legislative session.
The ACLU believes the practice of forcibly taking DNA from anyone who is arrested before conviction of a crime is contrary to the core American principle that we are all innocent until proven guilty. It is a violation of due process and the 4th Amendment’s prohibition on unreasonable search and seizure.
Proponents of the practice would have you believe a number of things about collecting DNA after every arrest. Supporters believe that DNA collection will prevent crimes against women, exonerate the wrongly accused, prevent crime sprees, reduce racial disparity, and take away rights from criminals. Lastly, they claim that it is a cost effective way to reduce crime.
All of these are admirable goals; however, there is little or no evidence to support the claims that they can be achieved through this controversial practice. There is a lack of evidence proving that this practice prevents crimes against women, or anyone for that matter. It is also unlikely that it exonerates the wrongly accused; the wrongly accused often offer their DNA to exonerate themselves. As for preventing crime sprees, it must be considered that often there is little to no DNA that will be collectible at the crime scene of a “crime spree.” This practice also will not protect people of color, as they are often disproportionately arrested; this practice might actually serve to disproportionately harm minorities. Finally, the belief that this is a cost effective practice is a far stretch from the truth. Collecting, processing, and storing all of these DNA samples would cost millions of dollars, which could be used to fund proven policing practices.
What this practice actually does is subject potentially innocent people to an egregious violation of their privacy. One false arrest could lead to lifelong genetic surveillance of innocent people. A quick inventory and assessment of the facts and myths surrounding the practice should inform the public of whether or not they support this practice in their state.
by Kayleigh Hartwig, ACLU of Nevada Legal Intern
People think that forensic evidence is the one of the most condemning pieces of evidence that can be presented. It’s science, so it just can’t be wrong. Right?
Like so many other things in our criminal justice system, forensic evidence can be wrong. It can be exaggerated. The science behind it can even be completely, if unintentionally, bogus.
If the story of flawed forensic evidence ended there, basically that we’re human and make mistakes, it would be not ideal, certainly, but it would be understandable. Unfortunately, the Justice Department has known that some of the forensic evidence used in convictions was flawed, but as the Washington Post reports, the convicted individuals and their attorneys were never told about it. Only the prosecutors were informed.
So in most of these cases where basic evidence used to help convict someone was wrong and the government knew it was wrong, all of nothing happened. Many potentially innocent people continued to sit in prison without knowing the government might hold the key to their release.
The Justice Department and the FBI announced on Tuesday that it will review the use of forensic evidence in thousands of cases, with help from the Innocence Project and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. It will “determine whether any defendants were wrongly convicted or deserve a new trial because of flawed forensic evidence,” the Washington Post reports.
This review is long overdue, but it is a step in the right direction. Even if (and this is a big “if”) every conviction is upheld where faulty forensic evidence was used, this review is necessary in the pursuit of justice, which is a lot more than just getting and protecting a conviction.
“The price of freedom is eternal vigilance." More than likely, Thomas Jefferson could not foresee how true those words would ring throughout the development of our nation.
Today we celebrate the Fourth of July, the day we declared our independence from England. The signers of the Declaration of Independence asserted their right to be free from religious oppression, and taxation without representation, among many others. Indeed, the first paragraph of the Declaration after the preamble holds some of the most powerful words in American history:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it
It seems absurd that in 2012, two hundred and thirty six years after these words were penned, that we continually struggle to attain what we declared in 1776. Every day the ACLU fights for the rights of Americans to be equal, to obtain liberty, and to be able to pursue happiness in this country. Throughout our history, there have been great advances in equality and a proper application of the unalienable rights the founding fathers recognized, however we, as a country, continually fall short and slide back into the mode of oppression that we fought so hard to be independent from.
The ideals Americans espoused in the Declaration of Independence and founded through the Constitution are not mere recommendations. They are the ideals that this country was founded on - ideals that have been lost. Instead of all people being created equal and endowed with unalienable rights, we continue to see laws made by the minority of rich and powerful people for their own benefit. Children born in this country to immigrant parents are no longer seen as citizens, they are seen as a second class problem. People are not seen as equal, they are seen as races. Love between two people, if they are of the same gender, is not a proper pursuit of happiness.
The work of the ACLU is to be eternally vigilant. To uphold and strive for the goals the Declaration of Independence held out for us. Work that seems to never end regardless of the very bedrock we supposedly founded our nation on. So enjoy the barbeques and fireworks today, then start tomorrow off right by continuing to fight for the lofty ideals of freedom, justice and independence our nation fought for so long ago.
The issue of school-sponsored prayers in public schools, one of the most debated and publically misunderstood issues we work on here at the ACLU, never came up during my primary and secondary education.
Growing up and receiving my kindergarten through sixth grade education in Taiwan, I wasn’t aware of school-sponsored prayers and quite frankly, another set of rules applied there. After we moved to America, I spent my years in middle school frantically learning English; any prayers would have gone by unnoticed. I was enrolled in a private Catholic high school – my parents favored its smaller class sizes – and prayer was an everyday – and sometimes a multiple times per day – occurrence. School policy stated that I was not required to participate but needed to be respectfully silent, which I was.
My educational journey is fairly uncommon and my time spent in public schools was limited. Perhaps that is why I was surprised to learn about the ongoing campaign to reintroduce religion in public schools. The landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision Engel v. Vitale (1962), decided 50 years ago this week, held that an official school-sponsored prayer in public schools stood in violation of the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause. Despite that, many school districts and states have attempted to reestablish school-sponsored prayer in various forms – such as prayers led by religious authority figures at public school graduation ceremonies, in Lee v. Weisman (1992) and prayers conducted via public address system, in Santa Fe Independent School District v. Doe (2000). Both activities were ruled unconstitutional.
Coincidentally, though likely not, both activities were present at my high school. We did have prayers led by religious figures at graduation ceremonies as well as other events, and we did have prayers over the intercom. However, my family and I knew exactly what we were getting and what we were giving up when we selected a private Catholic school. Public schools are a different matter. Public schools should not be promoting particular religious or anti-religious beliefs and have a responsibility to protect children from being coerced by others to accept religious or anti-religious beliefs.
School-sponsored prayers and religion make individuals who do not share that belief feel alienated and like second-class citizens. At the ACLU of Nevada, we respect and protect religious liberty. True religious freedom gives everyone the right to make their decisions regarding religion or lack thereof. We protect public school students’ religious freedom by curbing the practice of school-sponsored religion. We defend students' rights to freely express and exercise their faith. We request those who believe one religion should be declared official in public schools to be respectfully silent while others are practicing their faith.
I never stepped near a sport in high school or college, so I didn’t think that Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 had any noticeable impact on my education.
Most people know Title IX because of its impact on women’s and girls’ athletics, but the law seeks to end sex-based discrimination in all aspects of education. The overarching purpose of the law is to ensure that all students, regardless of their sex, have access to the same educational opportunities in school and in extracurricular programs, so that boys and girls alike can achieve their full potential.
This means that schools may not rely on harmful gender stereotypes to separate boys and girls or offer them different educational programming. It also means that schools must prevent and respond to sexual harassment, bullying of students who do not conform to gender stereotypes and physical violence such as rape and sexual assault. It even means that students who become pregnant or who are caring for a child are allowed to finish their education free from discouragement or hostility. So Title IX isn’t just for female student athletes, it is for students, whether they are male or female, gay or straight or transgender (according to some courts and the Obama administration), whether they are on the soccer team or the chess club, whether they take AP Calculus or Home Economics.
It may seem obvious now to say that young men and women deserve an equal opportunity to receive a quality education and pursue their goals free of sex stereotypes. But before Title IX, that wasn’t the case.
My mother was one of just a very small handful of women in her class to graduate with an engineering degree in the 1970s. In high school, I was actively encouraged to take upper-level math and science courses, and I graduated from college with a minor in math. My college math and programming classes still had more men than women, but not significantly more and it was certainly more balanced than my mother’s classes.
Women now earn about half of all degrees in science and engineering fields, including the social and behavioral sciences. In 1971, women earned about 29% of these degrees. And instead of women making up 0.8% (!) of engineering degrees like we did in 1971, we now comprise 18.5%, which is certainly a far cry from ideal, but still a long way from pre-Title IX days. (And check out this interesting chart from feminist.org)
Tomorrow, June 23, marks the 40th Anniversary of Title IX, a law that has fundamentally changed the face of education – so fundamentally, in fact, that most people think it only applies to athletics. And while women have made great advances in 40 years, on the field and in the classroom, we still have some more progress to make.