In a 5-to-4 vote Monday, the Supreme Court narrowly upheld a Maryland law permitting law enforcement to collect DNA samples from arrestees as a routine part of the booking process – as common as fingerprinting – without the necessity of a warrant.
The federal government and 28 states authorize the practice and find it to be a valuable tool when investigating unsolved crimes. This recent decision means if you are ever arrested, guilty or not, your DNA can be taken and entered into a national database, reports the Washington Post. Therefore, if you are not convicted of a serious crime, your DNA can be swabbed and kept on file.
Justice Anthony Kennedy defined an oral buccal swab as a minor intrusion, supporting the argument for DNA sampling. According to ABC News, Kennedy was quoted, stating, “When officers make an arrest supported by probable cause to hold for a serious offense and they bring the suspect to the station to be detained in custody, taking and analyzing a cheek swab of the arrestee’s DNA is, like fingerprinting and photographing, a legitimate police booking procedure that is reasonable under the Fourth Amendment.”
Kennedy reinforced support for the decision, finding DNA proves more accurate identification of individuals – as we take mugshots and record tattoos and fingerprints in the same vain. Ultimately, DNA samples would insure dangerous criminals would not be easily released on bail, and unsolved crimes would potentially be linked to recidivistic detainees, who based on genetic evidence, likely committed them – allowing for investigations to continue in otherwise cold cases.
The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution is part of the Bill of Rights. This measure guards against unreasonable searches and seizures, along with requiring any warrant to be judicially sanctioned and supported by probable cause. It is applied by way of the Due Process Clause of the 14th Amendment.
Investigative scopes regarding search and seizure, including arrest, are meant to be restricted to specific information legally supplied for use in court – applied as a means of limiting potential abuse.
Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Clarence Thomas, Stephen Breyer and Samuel Alito sided with Kennedy’s view on the matter and voted in favor. Justices Antonin Scalia, Elena Kagan, Sonia Sotomayor, and Ruth Bader Ginsburg voted against the measure.
The decision overturned a ruling by Maryland’s highest court that felt the law skimmed the line of unlawful searches of those arrested, used to see whether they could be connected to unsolved crimes. The challenge to the Maryland law was initially brought by Alonzo Jay King Jr. His DNA was taken after a 2009 arrest for assault and used to connect him to an unsolved rape, completely unrelated to the crime he was being detained for.
A Maryland court was one of the first to say that it was illegal for that state to take King’s DNA without approval from a judge, citing King had a reasonable expectation of privacy against warrantless searches under the Fourth Amendment, as the DNA used to make the comparison had been from an unrelated arrest.
The Supreme Court’s ruling negates the prior ruling, and reinstates King’s rape conviction.
Do you feel a cheek swab is an intrusion on your rights? Do you think it is right for an otherwise innocent individual to be subjected to DNA testing as part of their arrest process? You are arrested and not convicted on a first time offense, should your DNA be kept on file or expunged from the system? Should DNA samples be kept indefinitely?
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