Supreme Court OKs DNA Collection on Arrest

Top justices rule that police have the right to take DNA swabs from people who are arrested, even before they are convicted.

Jun 4, 2013
Dan Cossins

STOCK.XCHNG, SCHULERGDThe Supreme Court yesterday (June 3) ruled that law enforcement authorities can take DNA samples from people arrested for serious crimes, such as violence or burglary, reported Reuters.

With a narrow 5-4 majority, the justices rejected a 2012 decision by the Maryland Court of Appeals, which held that authorizing the sampling of DNA from people who had not been convicted is a breach of the Fourth Amendment right against unreasonable search and seizure.

The practice is a valuable tool for investigating unsolved crimes, but the court justified the ruling on the grounds that it is a legitimate way to identify suspects.“[T]aking and analyzing a cheek swab of the arrestee’s DNA is, like fingerprinting and photographing, a legitimate police booking procedure that is reasonable under the Fourth Amendment,” wrote Justice Anthony Kennedy for the majority.

Justice Antonin Scalia expressed vigorous dissent from the bench. Scalia said that the majority’s justification “taxes the credulity of the credulous,” reported The New York Times, because DNA testing is not currently used to identify suspects in custody. He also challenged Kennedy’s claim that the ruling was limited to serious offenses, and said that in practice, under the terms of the court’s justification, DNA samples could be taken after any arrest. “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,” said Justice Scalia.

Other critics are concerned that DNA sampling exposes people to as yet unpredictable privacy issues that will only be revealed as science decodes more of the genome. “Once an individual’s DNA sample is in a government database, protecting that information from future exploitation becomes more difficult,” said the Electronic Privacy Information Center in a friend-of-the-court brief submitted earlier this year. But Justice Kennedy said that the information gleaned from DNA testing carried out by police is limited, and insisted that whether or not “the testing at issue in this case reveals any private medical information at all is open to dispute.”