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Dakota County will start taking DNA samples from violent crime suspects

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The Dakota County Sheriff's Office will soon take a DNA sample from some suspects of violent crimes, even before they've been convicted – a return to a short-lived practice that had previously been ruled unconstitutional.

In a press release, Sheriff Tim Leslie called the collection of DNA "critically important" to helping law enforcement identify suspects.

The samples will be taken from suspects – both adult and juveniles – who have been in court and are charged with certain violent crimes, including:

  • Murder
  • Manslaughter
  • Assault
  • Robbery
  • Kidnapping
  • False imprisonment
  • Criminal sexual conduct
  • Incest
  • Burglary
  • Indecent Exposure

The Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension is ready to take the samples for analysis and comparison, the press release says. Staff at the sheriff's office are currently being trained in proper collection procedures.

"I am pleased that this law can once again be utilized for the important purposes for which it was enacted," he said.

So how did we get from it being ruled unconstitutional to now being OK again?

Constitutional or not?

According to the sheriff's office, Minnesota enacted a statute in 2005 (click here to read it) that allowed law enforcement to take DNA samples from suspects who haven't been committed of a crime. But a year later, the Minnesota Court of Appeals ruled that was a violation of the U.S. Constitution's Fourth Amendment – the protection against "unreasonable searches and seizures" of a citizen's "persons, houses, papers, and effects."

However, Dakota County Attorney Jim Backstrom argues this has essentially been overruled by a determination in a separate case.

In 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court (the highest court authority in the country) found a Maryland law "substantially similar" to Minnesota's statute was indeed constitutional, the news release says – and Backstrom argues that because the 2005 Minnesota statute was never repealed, it's now been proven as legally valid by the Maryland ruling.

The Maryland case involved a man named Alonzo J. King, Jr. who was charged with pointing a gun at several people, Slate explained. He was arrested, and had a DNA swab done – despite having seemingly enough evidence without a DNA sample to link him to that crime.

But that sample later linked him to an unsolved 2003 rape, for which he was subsequently convicted. The man's lawyers argued the swab was an unreasonable search, but the Supreme Court disagreed, ruling in favor of the DNA collection 5-4.

DNA collection

After the Maryland ruling, PBS's Nova Next looked at DNA sampling in U.S. law enforcement work. At the time, PBS said 28 states (and the federal government) practiced collecting DNA samples from suspects of serious crimes. The other 22 states only collected that sample from people who were convicted.

About the Maryland ruling, the story said it's "likely to have wide-reaching implications — both for states that already have databases and for those that don’t, yet."

In Minnesota, Dakota County is the first in the state to make such a move since the ruling, the Star Tribune reports, noting other metro counties and the American Civil Liberties Union will be following what happens closely.

Leslie told FOX 9 they "anticipate" legal challenges from groups such as the ACLU.

Under Minnesota's statute, if a suspect is found not guilty, their DNA sample is required to be destroyed from the database. Anyone who had a DNA sample taken, but the charges against them were dismissed, can request it be destroyed and law enforcement must oblige.

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