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Prisoner's religious objection won't stop DNA sampling

By The Associated Press
12.31.08

WASHINGTON — A federal appeals court yesterday refused to stop the government from taking DNA from a prisoner who claims the process would violate his religious beliefs.

Russell Kaemmerling, who is in the Federal Correctional Institution in Seagoville, Texas, on a felony wire-fraud conviction, sued in 2006 to stop the Federal Bureau of Prisons from taking a DNA sample from him.

Federal law requires felons give a DNA sample to the Federal Bureau of Prisons to be kept in a national law-enforcement database. Officers then use the Combined DNA Index System, or CODIS, to try to solve crimes by matching evidence from crime scenes to known offenders.

Kaemmerling claimed the collection violated the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, as well as the First, Fourth and Fifth Amendments of the Constitution, saying the collection and retention of his DNA information is "tantamount to laying the foundation for the rise of the anti-Christ."

U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton ruled against Kaemmerling, saying only that the prisoner had not exhausted all of the remedies available inside the prison system.

But on appeal, the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia added that Kaemmerling's claim that submitting to DNA sampling, collection and storage would be repugnant to his strongly held religious beliefs was not enough to stop the collection.

"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 #151; it involves no action or forbearance on his part, nor does it otherwise interfere with any religious act in which he engages," the unanimous three-judge panel said in Kaemmerling v. Lappin. "Although the government's activities with his fluid or tissue sample after BOP takes it may offend Kaemmerling's religious beliefs, they cannot be said to hamper his religious exercise."

The decision was made by Judges David B. Sentelle, Brett M. Kavanaugh and Karen Lecraft Henderson.

The decision is another blow against prisoner attempts to stop DNA collection. The 9th Circuit ruled last year that collection of DNA samples from prisoners does not violate their privacy rights.


Related

Idaho man must provide SSN to renew driver's license

State appeals court says officials have compelling reason to require use of government-issued number, even though doing so burdens Lawrence Lewis' religious rights. 08.21.06

Prisoners' rights

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