ISPLA News: Police Can Take DNA Samples From Arrestees, U.S. Supreme Court Rules
- Police Can Take DNA Samples From Arrestees, U.S. Supreme Court Rules
The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that a Maryland law allowing police to take
DNA samples from arrestees is a "legitimate police procedure," affirming
similar laws in 28 other states.
The Supreme Court ruled 5-4 Monday that DNA swabs taken from people arrested
but not convicted of a serious crime are a "legitimate police procedure,"
just like fingerprints and photographs, and lawful under the Fourth
The decision affirmed laws in 29 states, including Maryland, which brought
the case before the high court. The state's law had been struck down by the
Maryland Court of Appeals in 2011.
"By comparison to the substantial government interest (of solving crimes)
and the unique effectiveness of DNA identification, the intrusion of a cheek
swab to obtain a DNA sample is a minimal one,"
M7BEwBeLJb5ae40JgqvOlnKGZujA%3d> wrote Justice Anthony Kennedy for the
majority. "I think the decision will make it easier for other states to
enact these laws," said Nevada state Sen. Debbie Smith, a Democrat who
sponsored the state's new arrestee DNA law signed last week. "When we first
started the debate here, a lot of people went to that (Fourth Amendment
privacy) question," she said. "But this decision makes it much easier for
legislators to decide to seize the arrestee DNA issue and see it through."
The minority opinion argued that the current DNA collection system is
overwhelmed and not equipped to handle the backlogs it already has. As
Stateline has previously
fIjg889lR8pCBy9Opil4kxWmahQ6BFh57I%3d> reported, increased demand for DNA
samples taken from both arrestees and convicted offenders have exacerbated
DNA backlogs in the states, often leaving other crime scene evidence
But Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley applauded the decision. "Today's Supreme
Court ruling is important because it confirms an important weapon in our
arsenal to fight violent crime in our state," he said. "Together, we will
continue employing innovative and meaningful strategies to reduce crime,
including using DNA, so that we can take violent offenders off the streets
and protect our families and children."
The court ruled that police may take cheek swabs to affirm suspects'
identities and check their criminal histories, Kennedy wrote. Justices
Samuel Alito, Clarence Thomas, Stephen Breyer and Chief Justice John Roberts
also joined the majority opinion.
DNA samples are catalogued in state databases and sent to a national DNA
database managed by the FBI. Every time a new sample is input, the database
searches for a "match."
The nation's first so-called arrestee DNA law
UbvAedPNNP2WHR4Z3z3SXXgL1cQ6z%2fy7nQ%3d> originated in New Mexico, where
22-year-old Katie Sepich was raped and murdered in 2002. Three years later,
Katie's killer was identified when a DNA sample taken from Gabriel Avila
matched DNA found at the murder scene. Katie's parents advocated for a New
Mexico law allowing arrestee DNA swabs and took their campaign nationwide.
In January, President Barack Obama signed the Katie Sepich Enhanced DNA
Collection Act, which provides grants to states to expand their DNA
"This is a resounding victory for both law enforcement and civil
libertarians," said Maryland Attorney General Doug Gansler, who strongly
advocated for the arrestee DNA law, which took effect in 2009.
Justice Antonin Scalia, in a
M7BEwBeLJb5ae40JgqvOlnKGZujA%3d> dissent also signed by Justices Elena
Kagan, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor, argued that the current DNA
system is too backlogged and not equipped to handle the DNA swabs police
take. In the Maryland case, Scalia wrote, it took the state 18 days to
produce the results of suspect Alonzo King's DNA sample in court, and
Louisiana and Ohio took an average of about 20 days. "The Court's holding
will result in the dumping of a large number of arrestee samples undefined
many from minor offenders undefined onto an already overburdened system:
Nearly one-third of Americans will be arrested for some offense by age 23,"
Kennedy did not seem worried about the technology. "Just as fingerprinting
was constitutional for generations prior to the introduction of IAFIS (the
FBI's integrated automated fingerprint identification system), DNA
identification of arrestees is a permissible tool of law enforcement today,"
he wrote. "New technology will only further improve its speed and therefore
ISPLA is grateful to Stateline for the permission granted to reproduce this
June 4, 2013 item by their staff reporter Maggie Clark. Stateline is a
nonpartisan, nonprofit news service of the Pew Charitable Trusts that
provides daily reporting and analysis on trends in state policy.
ISPLA Director of Government Affairs
Resource to Investigative and Security Professionals
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