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