The FBI CODIS database has nearly 15 million DNA profiles. Over 2 million of them belong to arrestees, never convicted of a crime who have the right to have their DNA cleared from the database. Nevertheless very few arrestees eligible for DNA expungement actually have their genetic profiles removed. The main reason is that most states place the burdensome and costly process of DNA expungement on arrestees. In California for example, whose residents make up a quarter of the FBI’s arrestee database with over 600,000 profiles, just 419 DNA profiles have been expunged upon request since 2004. This number is much higher in the minority of states that do it automatically. To give a comparison: In Maryland, where where DNA expungement is automatic, over 10’000 DNA profiles have been expunged in only two years.
But what is the problem of having your DNA in the FBI’s database? American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) attorney Michael Risher puts it this way: „if your DNA is in the database, you’re more likely to be implicated correctly or falsely in a crime.“ What implications this can have is shown by the following example: In 2012, a homeless man previously convicted of a residential burglary, was suspected of the murder of a Silicon Valley millionaire because the DNA found under the victims nails matched his. He was later found to be innocent, thanks to medical records that proved he was at a hospital the night the murder took place. So how did his DNA end up under the victims nails? The answer is simple if not intuitive: Both man were picked up by the same ambulance that night and paramedics inadvertently clipped an oxygen-monitoring probe first to the finger of the homeless man and then onto the victims, thereby transferring the DNA.
A further problem, Risher adds, is that there is a racial disparity in who gets arrested in the first place. This exacerbates and creates a feedback loop that further increases disparities in the U.S. racial justice system.
University of California, Davis law professor Elizabeth Joh argues that it is important that more states adopt a policy of automatic DNA expungement, as people should not “forfeit their genetic rights simply because of an arrest.”