The law enforcement DNA database known as the Combined DNA Index System (“CODIS”) has been touted as the best crime-solving tool since the advent of fingerprints. However, two U.S. Supreme Court opinions have undermined lower court precedent concerning the constitutionality of state law enforcement DNA databases and shaken the constitutional underpinning of the national DNA database system. Two opinions—City of Indianapolis v. Edmond and Ferguson v. City of Charleston undermine most, if not all, of the prior cases construing DNA statutes. In these opinions, the Court clarified its “special needs” exception to the Fourth Amendment’s warrant requirement, explaining that a government program violates the Fourth Amendment if it authorizes suspicionless searches for the “primary purpose” of evidence-gathering or general crime control. Part II of this article explains the operation of CODIS. Part III examines the Supreme Court’s suspicionless search cases. Part IV analyzes how the Edmund/Ferguson primary purpose analysis has refocused the lower courts now facing challenges to CODIS. Part V explores various possibilities for satisfying the primary purpose analysis and includes a discussion of recent lower court attempts to formulate a non-law enforcement primary purpose in order to justify the DNA database system. Part VI explores the possibility that the Court will create a new categorical exception to legitimize the DNA database. This article concludes that the primary purpose of CODIS is simply to solve crime—an impermissible primary purpose under Edmond and Ferguson. The various state and federal statutes that authorize the suspicionless searches that stock CODIS with DNA identifiers are, therefore, without constitutional justification.
Sandra J. Carnahan,
The Supreme Court's Primary Purpose Test: A Roadblock to the National Law Enforcement DNA Database,
83 Neb. L. Rev.
Available at: https://digitalcommons.unl.edu/nlr/vol83/iss1/2