Supreme Court Favors DNA Sampling Before Conviction

WASHINGTON — After a divided Supreme Court ruled that obtaining DNA samplings prior to conviction is not in violation of the U.S. constitution, legislators are following the cleared path to bring DNA sampling bills in their respective states.

In a 5-4 vote in June, the Supreme Court decided that acquiring a DNA sampling of suspected offenders arrested for serious crimes without a warrant does not infringe upon the Fourth Amendment, which guards citizens against unreasonable searches and seizures.

“When officers make an arrest supported by probable cause to hold a suspect for a serious offense and bring him to the station to be detained in custody, taking 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 in the court’s majority opinion.

In the case, Maryland v. King, dissenting judges were Justices Antonin Scalia, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotamayer. Justices Stephen Breyer, Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito and John Roberts voted in favor with Kennedy. Alito said the question of DNA sampling before conviction was potentially the most significant criminal procedure case seen in decades.

"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," Scalia said in his dissent. "This will solve some extra crimes, to be sure. But so would taking your DNA whenever you fly on an airplane."

The case concerns the April 2009 arrest of Maryland man Alonzo King, then 26 years old. After being arrested for first- and second-degree assault charges, King’s cheek was swabbed during the booking process in Wicomico County. The DNA was matched to samplings taken in an unsolved 2003 rape. King was later charged, convicted and sentenced to life in prison.

The Maryland Court of Appeals then threw out his rape conviction saying that the DNA collection was an unreasonable search and in violation of the Fourth Amendment.

The majority ruled the collection of DNA is a effective means in solidifying the identify of a suspect as well as deciding if the release of a suspect is safe for the public in cases of violent offenders.

Kennedy said such collections of DNA are a noninvasive, “quick and painless” process that would act as a tool in solving unsolved crimes. Scalia agreed that the samplings would help to solve more crimes, however, he added it would also solve crimes to swab every person boarding an airplane.

“Solving unsolved crimes is a noble objective,” Scalia wrote. “But it occupies a lower place in the American pantheon of noble objectives than the protection of our people from suspicion-less law enforcement searches.”

The federal government and 28 states now permit the practice of DNA swabs before conviction. The National Sheriff’s Association has yet to take a stance on the issue.

The Michigan Senate Judiciary Committee has approved a three-bill package that would implement DNA sampling policies similar to the federal legislation. Currently, debate is also heating up in Pennsylvania as DNA collections bill heads to the state Senate floor.