The Dakota County Sheriff's Office has agreed to stop collecting DNA from suspects charged with some violent crimes and said it will also destroy any previously collected samples, according to a recent settlement with the ACLU of Minnesota.
The settlement comes after the ACLU-MN filed a lawsuit in April against Sheriff Tim Leslie to prevent DNA collection from a Hastings man facing assault charges, saying the practice is unconstitutional.
Dakota County had resumed collecting DNA samples despite the practice having been ruled unconstitutional by the Minnesota Court of Appeals.
The county said it did so because of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that upheld the constitutionality of a Maryland law similar to the one struck down in Minnesota.
The Sheriff's Office agreed to stop collecting DNA samples effective Oct. 18, and to destroy samples collected from suspects who were found not guilty or whose cases were dismissed.
"This is a win, not just for our client, but for the other people whose DNA was unlawfully collected, and for those whose rights would have been violated in the future" said John Gordon, executive director of ACLU-MN. "Your DNA belongs to you, not to the government. It is your personal property, in some ways the most personal property you have. The Dakota County sheriff is not above the law, the courts, or the Constitution. This settlement affirms those principles."
The sheriff and the county attorney said in a news release Monday that the settlement was reached so that Dakota County residents wouldn't have to be responsible for costs had the case gone to trial.
"The settlement was reached in recognition of the fact that the statute in question has statewide impact and that any potential costs associated with defending the law should be the responsibility of the state of Minnesota ...," the news release said. " ... If the Minnesota Legislature wishes to have the constitutionality of this state law defended through civil litigation, it should pass a law providing for reimbursement and the county defending the constitutionality of the statute in civil litigation, or provide the Minnesota Attorney General with the resources needed to defend the validity of the law."
Dakota County Attorney James Backstrom and Leslie said they still believe DNA collection would "ensure proper identification of individuals arrested and charged with serious felonies in Minnesota, which will protect public safety."
"The settlement reached in this case should not be considered in any way as diminishing the importance of using DNA as a method to identify those who have been charged with violent criminal offenses or an acknowledgment that the law is unconstitutional or otherwise unlawful," the county news release said.
Karen Zamora • 612-673-4647