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A divided federal appeals court ruled Thursday that California law enforcement officials can keep collecting DNA samples from people arrested for felonies.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said law enforcement’s interest in solving cold cases, identifying crime suspects and even exonerating the wrongly accused outweigh any privacy concerns raised by the forced DNA collections.

The 2-1 ruling came in response to a lawsuit filed by four Californians who were arrested on felony charges but never convicted.

The arrestees sought a court order barring collection of DNA from people who are arrested but not convicted, arguing the process is an unconstitutional search and seizure since some suspects will later be exonerated.

The DNA samples are obtained with a swab of the cheek and stored in the state’s DNA database, which contains 1.9 million profiles. Arrestees who are never charged with a felony can apply to have their samples expunged from the database.

The state Department of Justice said it has had roughly 20,000 “hits’’ connecting suspects with previous crimes since it began collecting the DNA profiles.

Judge Mylan Smith Jr., writing for the two-judge majority, said the useful law enforcement tool wasn’t any more intrusive than fingerprinting.



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