US police are now legally allowed to take DNA samples from those who are arrested, even if they have not been convicted for a crime or gone to trial. The Supreme Court ruled 5-4 to uphold the controversial practice on Monday.
Critics claim that taking DNA samples from anyone in custody
without a warrant is considered an unconstitutional
“search”, but the high court believes otherwise. US police
who arrest anyone for a felony are now legally allowed to take a
cheek swab of the arrestee to obtain a DNA sample, regardless of
whether or not an individual has been convicted.
The court compared this practice to fingerprinting and
photographing, and ruled that it is “a legitimate police
booking procedure that is reasonable under the Fourth
Amendment.” The court also described DNA sampling as the 21st
century version of fingerprinting.
“DNA identification of arrestees is a reasonable search that
can be considered part of a routine booking procedure,”
Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote, representing the court’s majority
The Supreme Court narrowly ruled 5-4 in favor of this practice,
which Justice Samuel Alito described as “the most important
criminal procedure case that this court has heard in decades.”
In response to critics’ claims that DNA sampling is an
unconstitutional search, the court said that the procedure
requires nothing beyond “a light touch” and does not require a
surgical intrusion, which is why it does not constitute a
“search”. Twenty-eight states and the federal government
currently take DNA samples from those who are under felony
arrest, but have not yet gone to trial.
Justice Antonin Scalia, who ruled with the minority, responded
angrily to the ruling, suggesting that DNA sampling of arrestees
may be a stepping-stone to future privacy violations of innocent
Americans in the name of safety.
“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 season,” Scalia
said in response to the decision. “This will solve some extra
crimes, to be sure. But so would taking your DNA whenever you fly
on an airplane.”
During oral arguments in February, Justice Sonia Sotomayor
expressed her concern that DNA swabs could eventually be conduced
in schools and workplaces if the court upholds the police
“Why don’t we do this for anybody who comes in for a driver’s
license?” she asked.
But President Barack Obama has made comments in which he appears
to favor DNA sampling of arrestees. In January 2012, the
president signed the Katie Sephich Enhanced DNA Collection Act,
which provides states with federal funding for police to conduct
“It’s the right thing to do,” Obama said in a 2010
appearance on America’s Most Wanted, referring to the procedure
of taking DNA from arrestees. “This is where the national
registry becomes so important.”
The DNA sampling case landed on the Supreme Court’s desk this
year after 26-year-old Alonzo King, a Maryland resident, was
arrested for second-degree assault in 2009. Police took a DNA
sample from his cheek and matched it to an unsolved rape from six
years earlier. As a result, King was convicted of both the 2009
assault and the 2003 rape and was sentenced to life in prison.
The rape conviction was later overturned after the Maryland Court
of Appeals ruled that the DNA sampling was considered an
unreasonable search. The state then brought the case to the
Supreme Court, which on Monday upheld the police procedure.
But the procedure remains controversial, and Scalia warned that
the decision will lead to dire consequences.
“Make no mistake about it,” Scalia wrote. “As an
entirely predictable consequence of today’s decision your DNA can
be taken and entered into a national DNA database if you are ever
arrested, rightly or wrongly, and for whatever reason.”
This article originally appeared on: RT