DNA and the question of when and under what circumstances it can be taken from suspects has occupied many hours in the U.S. Supreme Court of late.
This month the Supreme Court upheld the controversial police practice of taking DNA samples from people who have been arrested but not convicted of a crime. The justices said DNA “ amounts to the 21st century version of fingerprinting,” reported ABC News.
However, the ruling was 5-4 with Justices Antonin Scalia, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan, dissenting.
The five justices in the majority ruled that taking DNA from a suspect after an arrest “for a serious offense” and when officers “bring the suspect to the station to be detained in custody,” was not in violation of the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition on unreasonable searches.
In its ruling the Supreme Court upheld a contentious Maryland law and opened the door to a more widespread collection system of DNA by law enforcement.
The Washington Post reported the decision would reinstate Alonzo Jay King Jr.’s conviction in a 2003 rape in Salisbury on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. He was linked to the raps after a DNA sample was taken following an unrelated assault arrest in 2009.
While three of the dissenting Justices were known for their liberal views, the fourth – Justice Antonin Scalia – is a conservative.
“The court has cast aside a bedrock rule of our Fourth Amendment law: that the government may not search its citizens for evidence of crime unless there is a reasonable cause to believe that such evidence will be found,” Scalia said from the bench.
He wrote that the majority’s attempts to justify DNA’s use as an identification tool as common as finger printing “taxes the credulity of the credulous.”
The five judges who backed the Maryland law said they believed DNA sampling represented a minimal intrusion on the privacy of individuals.
Opposition to the ruling was expressed by Senator Ted Cruz of Texas. In a press release he called it “unfortunate,” and claimed it “expands government power, invades our liberty, and undermines our constitutional rights.”
“All of us should be alarmed by this significant step towards government as Big Brother. The excessive concentration of power in government is always inimical to liberty, and a national database of our DNA cannot be reconciled with the Fourth Amendment,” he wrote.
“Accumulating DNA from arrestees—without warrant or probable cause to seize the DNA—is not designed to solve the crime for which the person has (rightly or wrongly) been arrested. Rather, it’s to test the DNA against a national database to potentially implicate them in other unsolved crimes.”
As technology advances more rapidly in the field of criminal justice, more legal battles which pit an individual’s rights against perceived progress, are likely.