By a 5-4 vote, the U.S. Supreme Court has upheld a Maryland law that allows police to collect DNA, without first getting a warrant, from persons who are arrested. The Court’s majority wrote that when officers make an arrest and brings the suspect to the station to be detained in custody, 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.”
The dissenting opinion harshly criticized the majority and believes the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition against “searching a person for evidence of a crime when there is no basis for believing the person is guilty of the crime or is in possession of incriminating evidence … is categorical and without exception.”
Civil rights and liberties groups believe that the Court has gone too far. They ask, when should society’s interest in detecting and punishing crime override an individual’s right to privacy? Obtaining DNA from people arrested for (but not convicted of) a serious crime may close some cold cases. But so would taking DNA from people arrested for minor offenses — or from citizens applying for a driver’s license or gun permit. Or from all of us. Where are the lines to be drawn and what next steps will law enforcement be able to take?