Appeals court upholds retention of volunteered DNA

Jennifer Russell, forensic biologist III, demonstrates DNA analysis in the Biology Lab. Earlier, the Baltimore County Police Department held a press conference to talk about the Combined DNA Index System (CODIS). The department's DNA database had its 150th hit in a case involving a suspect in an armed robbery.

An appeals court on Wednesday sanctioned the police's use of genetic material obtained in one investigation to solve other crimes, but agreed with attorneys for a burglar that questions surround the little known practice.

Three judges of the Court of Special Appeals upheld the burglary conviction of George Varriale, a homeless Anne Arundel County man, which was based in part on DNA that he had voluntarily given to police to clear himself in a rape investigation.


Genetic material obtained by police with consent of a suspect is not subject to the same legal protections as that compelled from people arrested for certain crimes — the profile need not be expunged from law enforcement databases if the suspect is cleared of wrongdoing, for example.

While the judges said the practice did not violate the Fourth Amendment nor the state's DNA collection statute, they did question the logic of giving people who agree to give a sample fewer protections than those whose cheeks are swabbed at arrest.


Varriale "argues that citizens might be deterred from cooperating with the police if the State and its instrumentalities can upload, store, and analyze their DNA samples in perpetuity," Judge Kevin F. Arthur wrote for the panel.

"We think that these arguments, as sensible as they are, are better directed to the General Assembly."

Varriale's attorney could not be reached for comment on the ruling, which could be appealed to the state's top court.

The legislature did consider the issue this year, but did not move forward.

Officials from the Maryland State Police, which runs the state's DNA database, said at a bill hearing that police departments had agreed to tighten up their rules so that samples taken from victims or to eliminate someone from suspicion of a crime would not be used in future investigations.