On DNA, Supreme Court Goes Too Far

A narrowly divided Supreme Court ruled Monday that police can collect DNA from people arrested but not convicted of serious crimes. Above: Alonzo King, left, in an April 2009 photo provided by the Salisbury, Md. Police Department. Justice Antonin Scalia, right, wrote the dissent. (Salisbury Daily Times, Charles Rex Arbogast / Associated Press / June 3, 2013)

[Los Angeles Times]

Taking DNA samples from individuals who have been arrested and running them through a DNA database of unsolved cases can be an effective way of connecting criminals to crimes. That is why the practice is popular with police and the public in states such as California, where voters in 2004 approved the collection of DNA from many criminal suspects. The problem is that it conflicts with the 4th Amendment’s prohibition of unreasonable searches and seizures. The Supreme Court on Monday tried to wish that problem away when it upheld a Maryland DNA collection law.

The 5-4 decision affirmed the rape conviction of Alonzo King, from whom a DNA sample was drawn in 2009 after he was arrested for menacing a group of people with a shotgun. When his DNA profile was fed into a database of unsolved crimes, it matched DNA taken from the scene of a rape in 2003. He was charged and ultimately convicted of that crime.

Justice Anthony M. Kennedy’s majority opinion disingenuously suggested that swabbing King’s cheek for DNA was reasonable given “the need for law enforcement officers in a safe and accurate way to process and identify the persons and possessions they must take into custody.”

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