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Supreme Court Rules That Police Can Take Your DNA Even If You Haven't Been Convicted of a Crime

The nation's highest court ruled today that the police have the power to take DNA samples from people arrested for a crime.
 
 
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The Supreme Court has ruled that the police can take DNA samples of arrestees. The 5-4 decision allows law enforcement to take the DNA of people who haven’t been convicted of a crime yet.

The issue at hand was whether taking samples from people only suspected of a crime was unconstitutional under the Fourth Amendment. The justices said that taking DNA swabs is the same as taking someone’s fingerprints.

The New York Times notes that Justice Anthony Kennedy, who voted with the majority, wrote: “When officers make an arrest supported by probable cause to hold for a serious offense and they bring the suspect to the station to be detained in custody, taking and analyzing a cheek swab of the arrestee’s D.N.A. is, like fingerprinting and photographing, a legitimate police booking procedure that is reasonable under the Fourth Amendment.”

The practice of taking DNA samples from people suspected of a crime is legal in 26 states. The federal government can also do it. All convicted offenders across the country already have DNA samples taken from them.

Law enforcement says that the DNA samples are crucial to solving crimes, especially prior ones. But privacy rights advocates fear that the government can easily abuse that power.

Justice Antonin Scalia authored a sharply worded dissent. “Make no mistake about it: because of today’s decision, your D.N.A. can be taken and entered into a national database if you are ever arrested, rightly or wrongly, and for whatever reason,” he said.

The case dates back to 2009. Alonzo Jay King Jr. was arrested in Maryland’s Wicomico County on assault charges. A DNA swab taken from him matched evidence collected from a 2003 rape case. He was tried and convicted of rape because of the DNA sample. King Jr.’s lawyers succeeded in getting a Maryland state court to agree that taking DNA samples from people not yet convicted was unconstitutional. But the Supreme Court has now thrown that out.

 

Alex Kane is AlterNet's New York-based World editor, and an assistant editor for Mondoweiss. Follow him on Twitter @alexbkane.

 
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