Court upholds DNA swabbing: A necessary measure or more Big Brother?

Do the benefits taking DNA swabs justify curtailing individual rights? Photo: AP

TEXAS, June 3, 2013 — The US Supreme Court voted 5-4 on Monday to uphold the police procedure of collecting DNA swabs from people who have been arrested but not convicted of serious crimes.

The ruling stems from a 2009 case where police took a swab of DNA from the cheek of a Maryland man, Alonzo King, who had been arrested for second-degree assault, and ran it through a database. When the results matched DNA from an unsolved rape that had occurred six years earlier, King was also charged with that crime.

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King pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor for the 2009 assault, but was also convicted of the rape and sentenced to life in prison. The Maryland Court of Appeals later reversed the rape conviction on the grounds that the DNA sample was an unreasonable search.

Writing for the majority, Justice Anthony Kennedy said “DNA identification of arrestees is a reasonable search that can be considered part of a routine booking procedure. Taking and analyzing a cheek swab of the arrestee’s DNA is, like fingerprinting and photographing, a legitimate police booking procedure that is reasonable under the Fourth Amendment.”

Kennedy, who is considered the swing vote on the court, was joined by liberal Justice Stephen Breyer, conservative justices Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas, and Chief Justice John Roberts, also conservative.

Writing in dissent, conservative Justice Antonin Scalia said that Monday’s decision might have other ramifications. “Make no mistake about it,” he warned, “because of today’s decision, your DNA can be taken and entered into a national database if you are ever arrested, rightly or wrongly, and for whatever reason. This will solve some extra crimes, to be sure. But so would taking your DNA whenever you fly on an airplane.”

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Joining Justice Scalia in dissent were liberal justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan.

It should be noted that collecting DNA samples from those arrested for felonies or other serious crimes is not new. Twenty-six states already have laws that allow them to collect samples and upload them to a national database run by the federal government to match them with unsolved crimes.

It is a system that works. It has not only helped to convict criminals; it has also helped to exonerate those who have been wrongly convicted. But why must we suspend our rights in order to have it?

“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

Justice Kennedy said that taking a DNA swab is “a legitimate police booking procedure that is reasonable under the Fourth Amendment.” But if it is “reasonable,” why must it be warrantless?




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Derek Crockett

Derek Crockett is a retired Engineering Technician with a love for technology, and industry experience ranging from the production of printed wire boards to the manufacture of semi-conductor production tools. Derek is a resident of Copperas Cove, Texas, and has worked for many of the world’s leading technology companies such as Solectron, Samsung, AMD, and Applied Materials. He now writes technology related news articles and reviews at


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