DNA and Juvenile Offenders

We have seen DNA testing change the way police investigations are conducted, and in some instances, we see the fortuitous consequence of wrongly convicted prisoners being released from jail.  Undoubtedly, there are many positive results of DNA testing, but are the results always so positive?

Currently, thirty-five states collect DNA from convicted juveniles.  In one of these states, the Arizona appellate court held that DNA collected from convicted juveniles was not subject to expungement and could be used beyond the age of majority, including in adult prosecutions, because such testing was not punitive.  Furthermore, authorization to expunge an individual’s juvenile record is insufficient to trigger DNA expungement, and these provisions are generally not linked or coordinated.  Inconsistent thresholds for expungement can result in a DNA profile remaining in CODIS without a corresponding juvenile record.  There generally has been very little consideration given to how the laws should address the special circumstances and protections associated with juveniles involved in the justice system.

Do we really want a system that refuses to expunge DNA records for our juvenile offenders?  Historically, the juvenile justice system was developed to protect children and treat them differently than adults.  The juvenile system has traditionally been focused on rehabilitation and not punishment, and has provided additional protections to minors.  A key component of the rehabilitative focus of the juvenile system has been the treatment of juvenile records. In many states, access to juvenile court records is limited, and juveniles are able to expunge or seal the records of their adjudication after a certain number of years if they stay out of the juvenile or criminal justice system. Allowing juvenile DNA samples to remain in the system seems to diminish the entire purpose of the juvenile justice system.

Lisa Steffek

About Lisa Steffek

Lisa Steffek is a third year student at the University of Houston Law Center. Lisa completed her Bachelors, Masters and Doctor of Philosophy at the University of Texas in Human Development and Family Sciences. As an undergraduate, Lisa worked as a research assistant studying child attachment. Lisa also worked for several years at The Settlement Home, a residential treatment center for emotionally disturbed adolescent females. Most of the girls at The Settlement Home had been removed from their homes by Child Protective Services, and Lisa worked with the girls to teach them life-skills and provided psychological treatment to prepare them for adulthood and the transition to foster homes. Lisa also worked for six years in various academic capacities at the University of Texas, including an undergraduate teaching assistant, graduate research assistant, and undergraduate writing consultant. Lisa has presented papers regarding human development at various academic conferences in the states and abroad, and has had her writing published in an international, academic journal.

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