Many of the states in the U.S. have laws permitting police officers to take DNA samples from people that police have arrested. Many see taking such samples as violating people's constitutional rights. However, on June 3, 2013 the U.S. Supreme Court issued an opinion upholding state and federal governments' right to collect DNA samples from those arrested for, but not convicted of, crimes.

Upholding DNA sampling of arrestees

The case came before the Court as the result of a man's 2009 conviction for a 2003 rape. He was arrested for felony assault charges, and in accordance with state law police took a sample of his DNA when they processed him. When they ran the DNA through their database, it matched a DNA sample collected in an unsolved rape case from 2003. Authorities brought charges against the man for the rape, and the man moved to suppress the DNA sample at trial. He argued that the collection of his DNA prior without a warrant to a conviction violated his Fourth Amendment rights protecting him from unreasonable searches and seizures, and that the state law allowing such collections was unconstitutional.

The trial court held that the law was constitutional and allowed the DNA sample in the trial. The man was convicted, but the Court of Appeals set aside the conviction and ruled that parts of the DNA collection law were unconstitutional. The state appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, and the federal government and many of the states filed supporting briefs in the case.

In a 5-4 decision, the Court ruled that the value of the public policy of routine DNA sampling far outweighed the minimal intrusion into privacy that taking a cheek swab DNA caused. The Court likened it to collecting fingerprints of suspects upon arrest, another way for police to confirm the identities of those in custody.

Threat to privacy?

The dissenting opinion raised several criticisms of the practice of routine DNA collection of those arrested for crimes, echoed by privacy advocates. Many are troubled by routine DNA collection because it is not just a way of identifying those whom the police have arrested, but it is also a way for police to link people to crimes other than the ones for which police arrested them - as happened in the case before the Court. In effect, such DNA samples allow for warrantless, suspicionless searches.

Privacy advocates are also concerned about DNA collection of those not convicted of crimes, as DNA provides much more information about a person than a fingerprint does.

Speak with a lawyer

Being arrested on criminal charges is traumatic enough - even if police do not take a DNA sample. Criminal convictions can turn a person's world upside down. If you have been arrested, seek the assistance of a skilled criminal defense attorney who can fight for your rights.

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