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People v. Hendrix (Challenging DNA database maintained by NYC Chief Medical Examiner)

This case raises issues regarding the lawfulness of a DNA databank that is maintained by the New York City Office of the Chief Medical Examiner. The Chief Medical Examiner of New York City maintains a “Linkage Database,” comprised of samples of DNA taken from arrestees and from suspects, bystanders at a crime scene and anyone else that the police ask to provide a biological specimen as a means of exonerating themselves. Under the practices of the Medical Examiner, the DNA remains in the “Linkage Database” even after DNA testing excludes these individuals from suspicion. The Medical Examiner has no policy, procedure or rules for purging profiles from the “Linkage Database,” and the Office of the Medical Examiner maintains that it may use the DNA in any way that it sees fit.

The New York Legislature has developed a comprehensive statutory regime governing the testing and databanking of DNA samples. The State scheme represents a carefully crafted series of compromises balancing law enforcement interests against the range of privacy concerns created by DNA databanking. In essence, state legislation allows for the databanking of DNA taken from individuals convicted of specified felonies and requires the expungement of the DNA taken from individuals who are acquitted or whose conviction is subsequently reversed on appeal or vacated. So understood, the City Medical Examiner’s “Linkage Database” dramatically extends beyond state law, and is in conflict with the careful balance struck by state law.

Accordingly, on Dec. 30, 2004, in an amicus brief filed with the Innocence Project of Cardozo Law School, the NYCLU argued that the “Linkage Database” is inconsistent with state law and, therefore, invalid under state pre-emption doctrine. The brief further argued that the database violates Fourth Amendment limitations that prohibit seizures beyond the initial purpose for which the seizure took place and that the database violates Fourteenth Amendment rights of informational privacy and individual autonomy with respect to the use and maintenance of one’s DNA.

On Feb. 24, 2005, the Supreme Court of Kings County granted a protective order, the precise scope of which was the subject of a motion for clarification filed by Legal Aid in late March. Upon clarification, the protective order vitiated any discussion of the databanks, thus ending the NYCLU’s involvement with the case. 

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