The Vermont Supreme Court has ruled the state can't collect DNA evidence from suspects in criminal cases unless they've been convicted of a felony.
In a 3-2 decision issued Friday, the court ruled a state law that allowed for the collection of DNA from people charged with felonies after a court decided there was probable cause violated the Vermont constitution.
Three years ago, Vermont's DNA database law was expanded to include people charged with felonies. Five Vermont trial courts have ruled the law unconstitutional.
The high court's decision says DNA collection at arraignment violates a defendant's right to privacy. It said DNA evidence is different – and has a different purpose – than obtaining a suspect’s fingerprints.
“We do not equate a procedure that takes a visible image of the surface of the skin of a finger with the capture of intimate bodily fluids, even if the method of doing so is speedy and painless," the majority opinion said. “More important, despite the occasional usefulness of DNA samples for ordinary identification as described in (an earlier ruling), the real functionality, and statutory purpose, is to solve open criminal cases or ones that may occur in the future.”
The dissent, authored by Chief Justice Paul Reiber, says the decision restricts the state's ability to enforce the law.
Defense attorney David Sleigh hailed the ruling. He said a person's "entire genome" doesn't become the property of the state when they've been charged with a crime.
(From the Associated Press)