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Supreme Court: police may take DNA samples after felony arrests, even before conviction

Supreme Court: police may take DNA samples after felony arrests, even before conviction

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Pollice are permitted to take DNA samples from individuals arrested for felonies and other serious crimes, the Supreme Court ruled today. DNA cheek swabs may be collected regardless of whether that person is ultimately charged or convicted of the corresponding crime, justices decided in a 5-4 ruling. "When officers make an arrest supported by probable cause to hold for a serious offense and they bring 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," Justice Anthony Kennedy said in the court’s majority opinion.

At issue was whether performing DNA swabs ahead of filing charges (or achieving a conviction) was a violation of the Fourth Amendment, which protects American citizens against unreasonable search. Despite winding up on the losing end, the court's dissenters characterized the tactic as overly invasive. "Make no mistake about it: 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," Justice Antonin Scalia said in the minority opinion. The ruling upholds the conviction of Alonzo King, identified as the perpetrator of an unsolved rape case thanks to DNA obtained while King was detained for an unrelated assault charge in 2009.

A Maryland appeals court earlier reversed King's conviction, ruling that despite DNA's enormous identifying power, collecting it from a newly arrested American — still presumed innocent — was a fundamental violation of the Fourth Amendment.