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Ruling OK's mandatory DNA tests for parolees

Federal court reverses panel's earlier opinion

SAN FRANCISCO -- Federal parolees may be required to provide blood samples for a national DNA database used to solve crimes, the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled yesterday.

The 6-to-5 decision, which overturned a three-judge panel's ruling last October, brings the Ninth Circuit in line with other appellate courts around the country that have examined the four-year-old federal DNA law.

The law requires federal prisoners, parolees, and probationers convicted of a variety of crimes, including murder, sexual abuse, and burglary, to provide blood samples for a national DNA bank monitored by law enforcement.

"By contributing to the solution of past crimes, DNA profiling of qualified federal offenders helps bring closure to countless victims of crime who long have languished in the knowledge that perpetrators remain at large," Judge Diarmuid F. O'Scannlain for the San Francisco-based court.

Judge Stephen Reinhardt, who wrote the ruling that was overturned, said in a dissent that the new decision puts all Americans at risk "of having our DNA samples permanently placed on file in federal cyberspace . . . Even governments with benign intentions have proved unable to regulate or use wisely vast stores of information they collect regarding their citizens."

The ruling last October concluded that the federal DNA program violated a parolee's right to privacy. Generally, law enforcement officers must have probable cause or some suspicion of criminal behavior before conducting a search, which includes taking a blood sample.

But yesterday's decision held that parolees' privacy rights are limited and they can be forced to give blood samples even if there is no specific reason to suspect they were involved in additional crimes.

Thomas Cameron Kincade, a decorated Navy seaman and convicted bank robber, challenged the law after his probation officer sought a blood sample from him.

Judge Alex Kozinski, who also dissented yesterday, said Kincade's Fourth Amendment right to be free of unreasonable searches would be violated by the placement of his DNA in a databank that law enforcement will monitor long after Kincade has completed parole.

Monica Knox, a public defender who represented Kincade, said the ruling establishes the legal groundwork for the government to take DNA samples of the general population in the future.

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