The U.S. Supreme Court recently approved the practice of taking DNA samples from persons arrested for a “serious offense”. In a 5-4 decision issued June 3, the high court ruled that the sampling is not an unlawful search under the Fourth Amendment and is justified in order to identify the arrestee, in the same way that police take a person’s photos and fingerprints at the time of booking.
“By comparison to the substantial government interest and the unique effectiveness of DNA identification, the intrusion of a cheek swab to obtain a DNA sample is minimal,” Justice Anthony Kennedy explained in the majority opinion.
The case, Maryland v. King, centered around the prosecution of Alonzo King, a Maryland man who was convicted of rape when a DNA sample taken following his arrest on unrelated charges turned up as a match to evidence obtained from a sexual assault six years earlier. An appeals court overturned the conviction, finding that the DNA sample was an unlawful search. The Supreme Court’s ruling means King is now headed back to jail.
“Law enforcement has found DNA to be a powerful tool in solving cold cases, and the federal government and 28 states allow the practice,” The Washington Post’s Robert Barnes reports.
But Justice Antonin Scalia split from other conservative members of the court, warning in a dissenting opinion that the decision to allow DNA sampling will come with serious consequences. While the majority said that the samples were justified by identification concerns, Scalia observed that King’s DNA swab sample was tested several months after he was arrested. It was then compared to samples from a database of cold cases, rather than used to confirm King’s identity.
“Today’s judgment will, to be sure, have the beneficial effect of solving more crimes; then again, so would the taking of DNA samples from anyone who flies on an airplane (surely the Transportation Security Administration needs to know the ‘identity’ of the flying public), applies for a driver’s license, or attends a public school.”
Meanwhile, Kennedy maintained that the Maryland law provides that samples be destroyed where the person arrested is not convicted. He also noted that the tests don’t reveal genetic or medical information.
Perhaps the only matter on which the justices agreed is that the decision is likely to be significant. The case is “perhaps the most important criminal procedure case that this court has heard in decades,” Justice Samuel Alito said during oral arguments in February.
If you’ve been charged with a crime in Florida – even if it’s a so-called “minor” misdemeanor – it is important to seek the counsel of an experienced criminal defense attorney who can advise you of your rights and help you mount the strongest possible defense. The South Florida criminal defense attorneys at Anidjar & Levine have vast experience representing clients in a wide variety of criminal cases, from DUI and drug possession to weapons and assault charges. With offices in Ft. Lauderdale, we represent clients throughout the region, including in Coral Springs, Pompano Beach, and Hialeah.
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