Hi all,

OK, this might seem like a simple question, but I'm a simple person. Can the police only test an individual for DNA evidence when that person has been arrested for a felony? So, the authorities can't randomly test people associated with the victim, right? Thanks.

Gus Cileone

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I'll leave this to someone else for the correct answer, but my feeling is that the police can test with the person's permission. Of course, refusing permission does make one look guilty. DNA testing is, I think, expensive and the results are slow (unlike what TV may make you think).
You can test with permission. Without it, the police need a court order.
Laws vary, but generally (and what is believable in fiction, I think) the police need your permission or a court order, or to discover the DNA is the normal course of their investigation. Crime scenes, etc. You smoke while the cops interview you, toss your cigarette on the street. In most cases, the cop can pick it up and test it.
Jack's right, I was too brief. Police can test anything discarded, under the "abandoned property" rules. When I said they had to have a court order, I should have added they need it to get samples from your person, such as hair or mouth swabs.
Emergency room bandages, discarded coffee cups, soda cans, and anything else that might carry your DNA into the dustbin, that can be traced back to you, is all fair game.
Keep in mind some jurisdictions don't accept DNA as court evidence anyway. For an example, click here to see a Virginia case from 2000.
There was a pretty famous murder case in Massachusetts a few years back in which the state police collected a couple of hundred DNA samples--most of the male population of a small town--all voluntarily. It took something like three years to get results back from the state police crime lab, but (unbelievably) they were able to convict a guy of the crime based on a cheek swab he volunteered. Had he not given up a swab, he'd have never been a suspect, most likely.


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