Supreme Court: Should DNA samples be taken from arrestees?

On Behalf of | Feb 27, 2013 | Criminal Defense

The U.S. Supreme Court recently weighed the positives and negatives of collecting a DNA sample from anyone who is arrested — but not necessarily convicted — of a crime. The issue is whether or not the privacy concerns outweigh public health concerns and if this practice is a violation of the Fourth Amendment.

Here in Minnesota, DNA is collected from those convicted of felonies. However, in December, Congress did pass a grant program that will award funds to states that expand their systems, which in some cases could mean more states collecting DNA from arrestees.

The federal government also allows for DNA to be collected from those arrested and accused of felonies.

In terms of collecting DNA samples from arrestees, some are in support of the practice as it can lead to cold cases being solved. For example, in one case, a man was arrested for an assault. At the time of his arrest, a DNA sample was taken. This DNA sample ended up matching up to an earlier unsolved sexual assault case. The man ended up being convicted of that rape and sentenced to life in prison.

However, the issue at hand is the constitutionality of taking a suspect’s DNA. For example, shouldn’t a suspect have more privacy rights than a convicted felon? And, is collecting the DNA of a suspect, who has not been found guilty, considered an unreasonable search and seizure?

In terms of what happens with collected DNA, the samples all end up in a national database where local, state and federal agencies can share and compare data.

Looking to the future, with more rapid processing technology, the thought is that DNA could be processed in as little as two hours. Right now it takes two weeks, if not longer, due to backlogs. However, if tests are done faster and more on a widespread arrest basis, some are concerned this will lead to overworked lab technicians and errors. These errors could end up costing innocent suspects their freedom.

But what do you think? Should DNA samples only be obtained from convicted felons? What about those arrested for felonies? What about misdemeanors?

Source: CNN, “DNA tests after arrest? Some justices not so sure,” Bill Mears, Feb. 26, 2013