Supreme Court Rules that DNA Samples Can be Taken After Arrests

Monday, June 3, the Supreme Court ruled in a five-to-four decision that police may take DNA samples from people who are arrested for a serious offense. Although there was no definition of what constitutes a serious offense, it was determined that when officers bring in a suspect to be detained in custody, collecting their DNA does not violate the Fourth Amendment.

This decision was the result to a 2009 case in Maryland, where police officials obtained a cheek swab DNA sample from Alonzo Jay King, Jr. after his arrest on assault charges. King’s DNA sample matched evidence in a 2003 rape case, and because of this evidence King was convicted of rape and sentenced to life in prison.  However, the conviction was overturned because the Maryland Court of Appeals ruled the state law that approved DNA collection before a conviction was against the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition of unreasonable searches. The high court’s decision today reverses this ruling and reinstates King’s rape conviction.

Currently all 50 states and the federal government can take cheek swabs from convicted criminals with a court order. However, prior to the ruling 28 of those states and the federal government could take the DNA swabs after arrests without a court order. As of today, the FBI’s Combined DNA Index System, CODIS, which is a database of federal, state and locally taken DNA profiles, contains over 10 million criminal profiles and 1.1 million profiles of those arrested.

DNA samples

The Supreme Court debate was based on whether or not DNA collection should happen before a conviction and without a judge issuing a warrant.

The majority of the court said that DNA testing is the 21st century version of fingerprinting, even though a cheek swab is considered a search under the law. Those who voted for the law said that a cheek swab requires only a light touch and no surgical intrusion, which was a critical point in determining if it was acceptable.  Others declared that DNA sampling involved minimal intrusion on personal privacy.

Judge Scalia, who voted against the law claimed, “Today’s judgment will, to be sure, have the beneficial effect of solving more crimes. Then again, so would the taking of DNA samples from anyone who flies on an airplane.”

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