Spitzer Blasts Lawsuit Against DNA Database Program

February 19, 2021 Updated: February 19, 2021

Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer said a lawsuit challenging a DNA database overseen by his office was “outrageous” and “absurd.”

University of California–Irvine (UCI) Law School professors and students filed the suit Feb. 16 in Orange County Superior Court against the county and Spitzer’s office, seeking an injunction to prevent the Orange County District Attorney’s (OCDA) office from “coercing often indigent persons charged with misdemeanors” into contributing their genetic material into its DNA database.

“The OCDA DNA collection program has solved crimes that would have never been solved,” Spitzer said Feb. 18. “Participation in this program is completely voluntary, is in no way coercive, and involves multiple layers of safeguards to ensure absolute voluntary participation.”

Spitzer also argued that the program, which provides leniency to defendants who agree to submit their DNA to the database, “helps to prevent mass incarceration in Orange County while having a significant positive impact on stopping future crime.”

“Recidivism is reduced by 43% in the year after an individual submits their DNA,” he said, citing University of Virginia professor Jennifer Doleac’s 2017 study on the effects of DNA databases on the deterrence and detention of offenders.

Spitzer said the program “protects the public, prevents additional victimization, and provides individuals with a path out of the criminal justice system.”

The county’s top prosecutor said the UCI professors overseeing the complaint filed by students “should know better and I had much higher expectations for (UC Irvine) and their professors that their legal research would have been thorough and accurate. The outrageous allegation that these materials are not subject to the most stringent of controls is absurd.”

William C. Thompson of the UCI School of Social Ecology, who is one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, said Spitzer’s office “has created a secretive system of genetic surveillance that was never authorized by state law.”

When the program was launched by Spitzer’s predecessor in 2007, prosecutors “sold this system to the county board of supervisors by promising it would solve a lot of crime, but that promise has not been kept,” Thompson said.

“Instead, we’ve seen a distortion of the justice system in which fundamental fairness and common sense have been sacrificed in an effort to coerce ever more people into giving up their constitutional rights in order to feed an unaccountable, ineffective bureaucracy,” Thompson said. “It is time to bring this wasteful failure of a policy to an end.”