Is taking a suspect’s DNA at the time of arrest unconstitutional?
Feb. 15, 2013
By Jeremy Quattlebaum, Student Voices staff writer
When individuals are arrested and charged with a crime, they are fingerprinted. Police may try to connect the suspect to the crime through fingerprints, and the fingerprints also are added to a database.
But what if the police take more than a suspect’s fingerprints? What if they also collect the suspect’s DNA?
Ten years ago, Virginia became the first state to require that a DNA sample be taken from a suspect charged with a serious crime but not yet convicted. The sample is put in a federal database to check if the suspect is connected to other crimes.
In the past decade, the federal government and 27 states have joined Virginia in collecting DNA samples as well as fingerprints from suspects during booking. All states require that a DNA sample be taken from anyone convicted of a felony.
The collection of DNA at the time of arrest has raised privacy and search-and-seizure questions. In Maryland v. King, which is before the Supreme Court, the two sides’ arguments address the balance between a suspect’s privacy with the needs of law enforcement.
In Maryland v. King, a DNA sample was taken from Alonzo Jay King Jr. after he was charged with assault. The sample connected him to a rape case. He eventually was convicted of rape and robbery and is serving a life sentence. His lawyers appealed the conviction, arguing that his Fourth Amendment rights were violated when a DNA sample was taken without a warrant and before he had been convicted of a serious crime.
An appeals court in Maryland agreed with King. It said a suspect who had been arrested was entitled to a more privacy than a convicted felon. The court rejected the prosecution’s argument that taking DNA with a mouth swab was no more invasive than taking a fingerprint.
Law enforcement and supporters of DNA collection argue that it has been effective in connecting people charged with credit card fraud and burglary to more serious crimes such as rape and murder.
“It’s extremely important to quickly identify someone who would be a danger to society if he were on the loose,” said Deputy Police Chief Daniel Murray of Arlington County, Virginia.
Opponents of collecting DNA at the time of arrest argue that the collection is essentially searching one’s person without a warrant and violates the Fourth Amendment.
The American Civil Liberties Union stated in an amicus brief that the DNA collection raises “serious privacy concerns. It involves a bodily intrusion for an individual’s genetic blueprint, and the information it reveals is increasingly used for familial searching, thus extending its reach far beyond the actual person arrested.”
Update: On June 3, 2013, the Supreme Court ruled, 5-4, that police are allowed to take a DNA sample when individuals are arrested. The majority opinion said taking the swab was similar to taking fingerprints and photographs and was not an unreasonable search under the Fourth Amendment. The dissenting opinion warned of the consequences if taking DNA samples eventually extended beyond those arrested for "serious" crimes.
What do you think?
Should DNA samples be taken at the time of arrest or only after a conviction? Is DNA sampling the same as fingerprinting? Is taking a suspect’s DNA the same as a searching a home and thus require a warrant? Does DNA collection before a conviction violate the Fourth Amendment? Join the discussion and let us know what you think!
Join the Discussion