Supreme Court Justices ruled on Monday to allow police to take DNA samples from those arrested for serious criminal offenses. The decision was 5-to-4. So far, the government and 28 states agree with and have authorized this police procedure. Law enforcement officials believe that post-arrest DNA testing can be extremely valuable, particularly when investigating unsolved crimes. However, the Supreme Court did not cite this as their reason for approving this type of DNA testing. They justified their ruling by saying it would help properly identify suspects who are in custody.
The majority of justices who approved stated that it is a reasonable procedure under the Fourth Amendment, similar to fingerprinting or photographing an individual during booking. Provided that the arrest was made after probable cause to do so, the majority of justices believe that DNA testing in this capacity is a helpful identification tool that does not violate a suspect’s Fourth Amendment rights.
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Justice Antonin Scalia, among the minority of justices, made his dissent known from the bench. Disagreeing from the bench does not happen often, and signifies a very strong contradictory opinion. From the bench, Justice Scalia stated that the entire purpose of DNA testing in criminal cases is to solve cold cases, not to identify suspects who are in custody for their potential connection to serious offenses. Koffel Brininger Nesbitt supports Justice Scalia’s dissent.
While the majority of justices did not dispute the basic principles of the Fourth Amendment, that evidence cannot be gathered without reasonable suspicion, their ruling will now make it possible for DNA to be collected from any individual arrested, whether rightly or wrongly.
Justice Scalia is a strong proponent of Fourth Amendment rights, recently ruling on limiting the use of drug-sniffing dogs as well as blood testing in DUI/DWI investigations.
The case that initiated this Supreme Court ruling (Maryland v. King, No. 12-207) was a DNA collection case back in 2009. The defendant in this case was convicted after a swab of his cheek matched evidence from a rape case six years prior. The defendant appealed, and the Maryland Court of Appeals ruled that the state’s DNA-testing law violated constitutional rights under the Fourth Amendment.
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Proponents of DNA collection from arrestees compare cheek swabbing to matching a person’s appearance to a wanted poster. They state that this type of testing is permitted under the Fourth Amendment due to the “reasonable cause” that law enforcement officers require an accurate form of identification during the booking process.
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The implications of this ruling are great. Because the majority of justices ruled that post-arrest DNA testing is necessary, reasonable and constitutional, anyone arrested for whatever reason can have their DNA tested and placed in national databases. This includes arrestees who are wrongfully accused of crimes.
Again, the justification the justices gave for ruling on post-arrest DNA testing was for identification purposes. However, as Justice Scalia pointed out, the defendant had already been accurately identified in the King case when his DNA was taken.
The DNA-testing law that the state of Maryland deemed unconstitutional also never cited “identification” as its driving purpose. At least one purpose of this law was to aid in the official investigation of a crime. The law did give authorization for identification purposes, but only for cases involving missing persons and remains, not arrestees. Each state in the nation requires DNA testing for individuals convicted of felonies, and 28 states authorize DNA testing of all arrestees.
Justice Scalia added to his dissent that, “The ironic result of the court’s error is this: The only arrestees to whom the outcome here will ever make a difference are those who have been acquitted of the crimes of arrest.”
Koffel Brininger Nesbitt strongly advocates for each arrestee’s Fourth Amendment rights, and stands with Justice Scalia and the other justices who voted in the minority in their dissent.