Thirty states and the federal government compel DNA collection from juveniles based on a finding of juvenile delinquency. A main justification for doing so has been that it deters recidivism and promotes rehabilitation, furthering the goals of the juvenile court and consistent with the court’s role as a “protecting parent.” There is little empirical evidence, however, that compulsory DNA collection deters people from committing crimes or fosters their rehabilitation. Whatever specific deterrence DNA databasing may achieve is certainly diminished with respect to juveniles, who are less deterrable than adults. This undermines the best-interest rationale for collecting DNA from juveniles. Indeed, to the extent that criminal justice contact has a criminogenic effect on juveniles, DNA collection from juveniles could produce unintended, perverse consequences.
Consistent with recent Supreme Court jurisprudence, this Article marshals scientific and psychosocial evidence regarding juveniles to outline a developmental critique of the best-interest justification for DNA collection from juveniles adjudicated delinquent. It also asserts that the basis for treating children differently from adults does not reside solely, or even predominantly, in science. The modern conception of childhood (as a separate, protected space for those whose development must be guarded and promoted) demands, even more powerfully, perhaps, than the findings of adolescent brain science, that we not subject juveniles to compulsory DNA collection for purposes of databasing. At the very least, the aggregate collection of genetic data from juveniles adjudicated delinquent cannot be justified as being in their best interests.