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ACLU wants to halt key part of California DNA crime program

July 18, 2010 | 11:41 am
Grim Sleeper suspect Lonnie David Franklin Jr. appears in Los Angeles County Superior Court.<br> <a href="http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-me-grim-sleeper-profile-20100709,0,5635000.story"> <u>See full story</u></a>

As state forensic scientists savor their success in using DNA to nab a suspect in the Grim Sleeper case, a federal court is considering shutting down a DNA collection program the state says has helped solve several violent crimes.

During a court hearing last week, a panel of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals showed extraordinary interest in an ACLU lawsuit challenging the state's collection of DNA from people arrested, but not necessarily convicted, in felony cases. One judge said the court was struggling.

"All of us on this panel have wrestled with this," said Judge Milan Smith, a George W. Bush appointee. "It is a very hard case." The hearing had been scheduled for 15 minutes. It lasted more than an hour.

Nearly half the states and the federal government now take DNA samples during arrests. Rulings nationwide on the constitutionality of the practice have been divided, and the issue is expected eventually to reach the U.S. Supreme Court.

Among those named as victims in the ACLU's class-action lawsuit was a woman arrested during an antiwar protest but never charged. The state continues to hold her DNA, and her genetic profile is in a criminal database.

Atty. Gen. Jerry Brown strongly defends DNA collection during felony arrests, which the state began in  January. He contends that nearly 1,000 DNA samples from unsolved crimes have been matched to DNA taken during arrests, many of them for nonviolent crimes.

Read the full story here: "Federal court struggles with California DNA collection case."

-- Maura Dolan in San Francisco

Photo: Grim Sleeper suspect Lonnie David Franklin Jr. in court. Credit: Al Seib / Los Angeles Times