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What do you think about this split Supreme Court ruling? IS collecting DNA by law enforcement no different from fingerprinting, or is it a violation of Fourth Amendment rights?

Supreme Court: DNA Samples Can Be Taken From Arrestees Without Warrant

By JESSE J. HOLLAND 06/03/13 03:28 PM ET EDT (AP)

WASHINGTON -- A sharply divided Supreme Court on Monday cleared the way for police to take a DNA swab from anyone they arrest for a serious crime, endorsing a practice now followed by more than half the states as well as the federal government.

The justices differed strikingly on how big a step that was.

"Taking and analyzing a cheek swab of the arrestee DNA is, like fingerprinting and photographing, a legitimate police booking procedure that is reasonable under the Fourth Amendment," Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote for the court's five-justice majority. The ruling backed a Maryland law allowing DNA swabbing of people arrested for serious crimes.

But the four dissenting justices said the court was allowing a major change in police powers, with conservative Justice Antonin Scalia predicting the limitation to "serious" crimes would not last.

"Make no mistake about it: Because of today's decision, your DNA can be taken and entered into a national database if you are ever arrested, rightly or wrongly, and for whatever reason," Scalia said in a sharp dissent which he read aloud in the courtroom. "This will solve some extra crimes, to be sure. But so would taking your DNA when you fly on an airplane – surely the TSA must know the `identity' of the flying public. For that matter, so would taking your children's DNA when they start public school."

Maryland Attorney General Doug Gansler agreed that there's nothing stopping his state from expanding DNA collection from those arrested for serious crimes to those arrested for lesser ones like shoplifting.

"I don't advocate expanding the crimes for which you take DNA, but the legal analysis would be the same," Gansler said. "The reason why Maryland chooses to only take DNA of violent criminals is that you're more likely to get a hit on a previous case. Shoplifters don't leave DNA behind, rapists do, and so you're much more likely to get the hit in a rape case."

Twenty-eight states and the federal government now take DNA swabs after arrests. But a Maryland court said it was illegal for that state to take Alonzo King's DNA without approval from a judge, ruling that King had "a sufficiently weighty and reasonable expectation of privacy against warrantless, suspicionless searches" under the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution.

The high court's decision reverses that ruling and reinstates King's rape conviction, which came after police took his DNA during an unrelated arrest.

Kennedy, who is often considered the court's swing vote, wrote the decision along with conservative-leaning Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas. They were joined by liberal-leaning Justice Stephen Breyer, while the dissenters were the conservative-leaning Scalia and liberal Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan.

Kennedy called collecting DNA useful for police in identifying individuals.

"The use of DNA for identification is no different than matching an arrestee's face to a wanted poster of a previously unidentified suspect, or matching tattoos to known gang symbols to reveal a criminal affiliation, or matching the arrestee's fingerprints to those recovered from a crime scene," Kennedy said. "DNA is another metric of identification used to connect the arrestee with his or her public persona, as reflected in records of his or her actions that are available to police."

But the American Civil Liberties Union said the court's ruling created "a gaping new exception to the Fourth Amendment."

"The Fourth Amendment has long been understood to mean that the police cannot search for evidence of a crime – and all nine justices agreed that DNA testing is a search – without individualized suspicion," said Steven R. Shapiro, the group's legal director. "Today's decision eliminates that crucial safeguard. At the same time, it's important to recognize that other state laws on DNA testing are even broader than Maryland's and may present issues that were not resolved by today's ruling."

Maryland's DNA collection law only allows police to take DNA from those arrested for serious offenses such as murder, rape, assault, burglary and other crimes of violence. In his ruling, Kennedy did not say whether the court's decision was limited to those crimes, but he did note that other states' DNA collection laws differ from Maryland's.

Scalia saw that as a crucial flaw. "If you believe that a DNA search will identify someone arrested for bank robbery, you must believe that it will identify someone arrested for running a red light," he said.


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Asked by Ballad at 9:25 PM on Jun. 3, 2013 in Politics & Current Events

Level 45 (193,996 Credits)
This question is closed.
Answers (14)
  • i support the dissenting opinions

    here's why
    DNA is more easily "planted" than fingerprints.
    i.e. a used condom has enough DNA to convict any man of rape (or force paternity)

    a strand of hair puts you at the scene. whether you've ever met the person or not

    remember when you buy a used car, get pulled over for a traffic violation and consent to a search. anything found in that car is YOURS
    even if you've owned the car for 10 years and never smoked weed in your life

    even if we think we have nothing to hide we must defend our 4th amendment

    Answer by feralxat at 10:27 PM on Jun. 3, 2013

  • I lean toward it being like fingerprints.

    Answer by anng.atlanta at 10:06 PM on Jun. 3, 2013

  • The new 21st Century Identification!
    I'm not comfortable with my 4th amendment being violated but that being said, there's pros and cons to it.
    I really need to learn a little more about it before I can honestly answer.

    Answer by PMSMom10 at 10:22 PM on Jun. 3, 2013

  • "i see no problem with it for serious, violent crimes. but if they ruled that DNA is a search (which i dont agree with) then they should have seen it as a violation of the 4th Amendment.."
    Not really because when the police or whatever gets the mouth swab, they are gaining entry into the body and thats when it is considered a search.

    Answer by Michigan-Mom74 at 4:27 AM on Jun. 4, 2013

  • The entry into the body thing bothers me. If they have to get a warrant to enter your house they should have to get a warrant to enter your body.

    Answer by LoveMyDog at 6:11 AM on Jun. 5, 2013

  • I really don't see it any differently than taking fingerprints.

    Answer by JulieJacobKyle at 10:07 PM on Jun. 3, 2013

  • I can reason that it's pretty much like fingerprints, but it just feels wrong. I'm going to have to think on it a little longer.

    Answer by QuinnMae at 10:18 PM on Jun. 3, 2013

  • I think taking a DNA swab if convicted of a violent crime is not a bad idea. It seems a bit over the top for, say, a failure to appear after a traffic summons...

    Answer by But_Mommie at 10:25 PM on Jun. 3, 2013

  • i see no problem with it for serious, violent crimes. but if they ruled that DNA is a search (which i dont agree with) then they should have seen it as a violation of the 4th Amendment...they arent very consistent.

    i see Scalia is using the "whats the most ridiculous thing i can say to refute this?" ploy as usual. does he seriously think that way, or is he just playing Devil's Advocate every single case? cause he's always so out there that he makes the dissenting opinion sound like something a paranoid coo-coo would think.

    Answer by okmanders at 10:54 PM on Jun. 3, 2013

  • I see this as a violation of our 4th amendment rights. Now once a person is convicted after a trial, I see no problem with collecting their DNA. But NOT before, NOT upon your arrest. To me, it is really really close to that poisonous fruit that is not allowed in court.

    Answer by 29again at 12:19 AM on Jun. 4, 2013