Supreme Court rules police can collect DNA from arrestees

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Kennedy, who is often considered the court’s swing vote, wrote the decision along with conservative-leaning Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas. They were joined by liberal-leaning Justice Stephen Breyer, while the dissenters were the conservative-leaning Scalia and liberal Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan.

Kennedy called collecting DNA useful for police in identifying individuals.

“The use of DNA for identification is no different than matching an arrestee’s face to a wanted poster of a previously unidentified suspect, or matching tattoos to known gang symbols to reveal a criminal affiliation, or matching the arrestee’s fingerprints to those recovered from a crime scene,” Kennedy said. “DNA is another metric of identification used to connect the arrestee with his or her public persona, as reflected in records of his or her actions that are available to police.”

But the American Civil Liberties Union said the court’s ruling created “a gaping new exception to the Fourth Amendment.”

“The Fourth Amendment has long been understood to mean that the police cannot search for evidence of a crime — and all nine justices agreed that DNA testing is a search — without individualized suspicion,” said Steven R. Shapiro, the group’s legal director. “Today’s decision eliminates that crucial safeguard. At the same time, it’s important to recognize that other state laws on DNA testing are even broader than Maryland’s and may present issues that were not resolved by today’s ruling.”

Maryland’s DNA collection law only allows police to take DNA from those arrested for serious offenses such as murder, rape, assault, burglary and other crimes of violence. In his ruling, Kennedy did not say whether the court’s decision was limited to those crimes, but he did note that other states’ DNA collection laws differ from Maryland’s.

Scalia saw that as a crucial flaw. “If you believe that a DNA search will identify someone arrested for bank robbery, you must believe that it will identify someone arrested for running a red light,” he said.

Scott Berkowitz, president and founder of the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, cheered the decision and called DNA collection “a detective’s most valuable tool in solving rape cases.”

“We’re very pleased that the court recognized the importance of DNA and decided that, like fingerprints, it can be collected from arrestees without violating any privacy rights,” he said. “Out of every 100 rapes in this country, only three rapists will spend a day behind bars. To make matters worse, rapists tend to be serial criminals, so every one left on the streets is likely to commit still more attacks. DNA is a tool we could not afford to lose.”

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