US Supreme Court rules police can take DNA samples upon arrest
In a major move that analysts say may affect the country’s legal system, the US Supreme Court reinstated the 2003 rape conviction of a Maryland man, or the so-called Maryland v. King case, in a narrow 5-4 vote. Maryland police collected a DNA sample from Alonzo King when he was arrested in 2009 for threatening a group of people with a shotgun. When the sample went into the state DNA database, it was found to match DNA collected in 2003 in the above-mentioned rape case. King was convicted of rape and sentenced to life in prison, but the verdict was then overturned by Maryland’s Court of Appeals. The court said that the DNA swab was a violation of King’s rights against unreasonable search under the US Constitutional Fourth Amendment. But the US Supreme Court ruled that King’s right under the fourth amendment was not violated. According to judges, taking a DNA sample using a swab of the cheek is “like fingerprinting and photographing”. Irv Gornstein, executive director of the Supreme Court Institute at Georgetown University Law, comments on the matter.
The Supreme Court’s decision has already been supported by representatives of numerous organizations which bring together victims of unsolved crimes, including rapes. But four dissenting justices said that the Supreme Court’s decision was allowing a major change in police powers. Justice Antonin Scalia, for his part, expressed deep concern about the potential of DNA samples winding up in a national database “if you are ever arrested, rightly or wrongly, and for whatever reason.” He was echoed by Ric Simmons, Professor of Law from Ohio State University. In an interview with the Voice of Russia on Wednesday, Simmons said the following.
The practice of police taking DNA samples only after defendants had been convicted was in use by federal authorities and in at least 28 states before it was suspended pending the outcome of the case. There are already 10 million convicted people in the US whose DNA has been collected, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Combined DNA Index System (CODIS). Meanwhile, local human rights activists are concerned about the fact that police in the US states still have a legal access to information concerning all those have been removed from the CODIS database.