The Supreme Court has recently ruled that police can collect DNA samples from people who are arrested but not yet convicted, in a split 5-4 decision. Justice Samuel Alito described the event as “the most important criminal procedure case that this court has heard in decades.” (Link) Twenty-six states already have laws that allow for DNA collection from people being arrested.
The Supreme Court case involved Alonso King. King’s DNA was taken after being arrested for assault and later discovered to be a DNA match for a rape kit taken six years earlier. King was convicted and later overruled in the appeals court for having DNA taken from a person who is presumed innocent. The Supreme Court has now ruled that the DNA sample was allowed.
The case demonstrates the ongoing dispute between a person’s privacy rights and the use of technology for catching criminals. The dissent made the slippery slope argument, that this decision will ultimately lead to an increased use of DNA testing in violation of the of the Constitution’s protection against unreasonable searches and seizures. Justice Scalia joined in the dissent, stating that this is “a violation of American’s Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures of their bodies and homes.” (Link)
The majority of the Supreme Court Justices, including Justice Kennedy, argued that “DNA identification of arrestees is a reasonable search that can be considered part of a routine booking procedure…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.” (Link) The cheek swab for DNA is being called the “new fingerprinting of the 21st century.”
The collection of the DNA samples will ultimately help in solving unsolved crimes but the question still holds how many wrongful convictions will occur based on this new decision.