Prison's ability to collect DNA versus Inmates' Religious Rights

Prison's ability to collect DNA versus Inmates' Religious Rights

Posted By Kansas City DUI Attorney || 3-Sep-2011

The Bureau of Prisons' practice of obtaining DNA samples from convicted felons was deemed acceptable by a Federal Court of Appeals recently. Federal inmate, Russell Kaemmerling, challenged the prisons' practice of collecting DNA, claiming it violated his religious rights, which are protected by the United States Constitution. The inmate is serving time in Texas, for conspiring to commit wire fraud. The legal question which the Court had to decide was, did this specific policy and practice infringe on the inmate's religious freedom. The answer, according to the Federal Court of Appeals in Washington D.C. was no, it did not. Perhaps you agree with the decision or perhaps you don't. But what if your DNA was used to research something you were opposed to? Russell Kaemmerling and his lawyers argued that the DNA obtained from him could be used for stem cell research or cloning, and that those research areas were in opposition to his religion. He was even quoted as saying that the Prisons' practice was "tantamount to laying the foundation for the rise of the anti-Christ." Strong words. Whether you agree or not with this philosophy, or the research, surely an individual should not have to support research they are religiously opposed to. Therefore, Kaemmerling sued to stop the Bureau of Prisons from collecting his DNA.

Currently, federal law allows the Bureau of Prisons to collect DNA samples from prison inmates. The saliva samples are obtained via a swab. Sometimes blood is collected. Also, the Justice Department recently expanded the DNA collection to include people arrested in connection with federal crimes and most immigrants detained by federal authorities.

To decide the issue, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, deemed that Kaemmerling failed to prove that the practice would substantially burden his exercise of religion. The Court stated: "The government's extraction, analysis, and storage of Kaemmerling's DNA information does not call for Kaemmerling to modify his religious behavior in any way -- it involves no action or forbearance on his part, nor does it otherwise interfere with any religious act in which he engages." One has to wonder if the fact that he was serving time for a crime was a factor in deciding that the federal prisons' practices did not "interfere with any religious act in which he engages."