In a close 5-4 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court recently ruled that law enforcement officials ought to be permitted to take DNA from suspects who have been arrested, without first having to secure a warrant authorizing the DNA collection. The criminal law opinion was an important one according to many legal experts and has opened the door for states across the country, including Missouri, to create massive DNA databases containing the genetic information of millions of criminal defendants.
The case revolved around the actions of one Maryland man, Alonzo King. King was arrested for assault by cops in Maryland and had his DNA taken at the time of his arrest. No warrant was ever secured and his DNA was then entered into a statewide database. A quick scan turned up a hit to a rape that had been committed six years earlier. The hit led to an investigation and eventually to criminal charges against King. He was eventually convicted of the crime and sentenced to life in prison, all thanks to a DNA sample.
The issue before the Supreme Court was whether such a DNA collection, occurring immediately after an arrest but before there has been a court order or criminal conviction that would authorize it, is legal. According to Justice Kennedy, who wrote the majority opinion, the taking of a DNA sample is much like the fingerprinting and photographing process that is common in normal arrests. These practices are standard for many law enforcement agencies and have already been found to be acceptable under the Fourth Amendment.
Justice Kennedy said that there was no real difference between DNA collection that was being used for identification purposes and a fingerprint. Justice Kennedy said both are used to positively identify a suspect and ensure that the correct person has been detained. Kennedy said that the procedure of swabbing a suspect’s cheek is no more invasive than taking a photograph or fingerprint and comparing it to others gathered in previous criminal investigations.
The dissenting justices disagreed vehemently with the Court’s majority. The dissent, led by Antonin Scalia, warned that with the recent ruling anyone in America could have their DNA taken and entered into a national database if they are ever arrested for any reason whatsoever. Scalia said that while there is no problem with collecting DNA after a warrant has been issued, it sets a dangerous precedent to allow police to collect such sensitive information when you are only suspected, but not yet proven guilty of committing a crime.
If you’ve had a run in with the law and find yourself in need of a Missouri criminal defense lawyer capable of aggressively protecting your interests, contact our St. Louis criminal defense law firm today at (314) 863-0500.
Source: “Supreme Court upholds DNA swabbing of people under arrest,” by Pete Williams, published at NBCNews.com.