U.S. Supreme Court Considers Case About Taking DNA Sample During Arrest

By N. Ryan LaBar | Criminal Defense Attorney
Published: 2013

With the advances that have come in forensic science, law enforcement officials are relying more and more on DNA evidence to investigate crimes. However, the question has arisen about where the limit is regarding when police may obtain DNA samples from people. On February 26, 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments in a case dealing with the question of whether the Fourth Amendment prohibits police officers from collecting DNA samples from people who have been arrested.

Probable Cause for a Search

The case before the Court stems from the 2009 arrest of a man for assault charges. Police took a DNA sample from him at the time of arrest and ran it through their database. The sample matched the DNA found at in unsolved rape case from 2003. The man was subsequently convicted of rape charges due to the DNA match.

The man appealed his conviction, and an appellate court overturned it. The court held that collecting DNA samples from those who have been arrested but not yet convicted violates the Fourth Amendment's requirement that searches have probable cause. Since people who are under arrest are presumed innocent until they are found guilty in court, police do not have probable cause to obtain a DNA sample at the time of arrest.

DNA Like Fingerprints?

The state, supported by the federal government, argued that DNA samples are no more intrusive than taking fingerprints and do not violate privacy rights. It also argued that the benefits of being able to solve crimes far outweighed the minimal intrusion that taking a DNA sample requires.

However, those opposing the idea of DNA samples at the time of arrest point out that there are significant differences between fingerprints and DNA samples. Primarily, DNA samples reveal much more personal information than fingerprints do. They argue that DNA samples are not merely minimal intrusions into a person's privacy; they potentially reveal a person's entire genetic identity.

Additionally, police use fingerprints and DNA samples quite differently. Police fingerprint suspects to validate people are who they say they are and to see if they are involved in the crimes police are currently investigating. Police use DNA samples to link people to cold cases for which people are not already suspects. It is analogous, many argue, to police being able to search a person's home at the time of arrest looking for evidence of crimes the person is not suspected of committing.

Privacy advocates also worry that laws that allow for DNA sampling at the time of arrest have no clear limitations. Those same laws could expand to allow for DNA samples for those who are pulled over for traffic offenses, or even to those merely applying for a driver's license.

Talk to a Lawyer

The Supreme Court's decision in this case could have important implications for privacy expectations people have in their own DNA and how far police may intrude into people's privacy when making arrests. If you have been arrested and face criminal charges, speak with one of our highly experienced criminal defense attorneys who can review your case to see if your rights were violated. Call us today at at 1-866-680-4LAW or fill out our online form located at the top of the page and we will contact you shortly

 

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