A divided Supreme Court ruled Monday that police may take DNA samples when booking those arrested for serious crimes, narrowly upholding a Maryland law and opening the door to more widespread collection of DNA by law enforcement.
The court ruled 5 to 4 that government has a legitimate interest in collecting DNA from arrestees, just as it takes photographs and collects fingerprints. Rejecting the view that the practice constitutes an unlawful search, the majority said it was justified to establish the identity of the person in custody.
“DNA identification represents an important advance in the techniques used by law enforcement to serve legitimate police concerns for as long as there have been arrests,” Justice Anthony M. Kennedy wrote for the majority.
The decision will reinstate Alonzo Jay King Jr.’s conviction in a 2003 rape in Salisbury on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. He was connected to the crime after a DNA sample was taken following an unrelated 2009 arrest for assault.
Law enforcement has found DNA to be a powerful tool in solving cold cases, and the federal government and 28 states allow the practice.
As with other recent court decisions involving the Fourth Amendment’s “right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures,” the justices split in an unusual fashion.
The dissenters were three of the court’s liberals plus conservative Justice Antonin Scalia, who amplified his displeasure by reading a summary of his dissent from the bench.
“The court has cast aside a bedrock rule of our Fourth Amendment law: that the government may not search its citizens for evidence of crime unless there is a reasonable cause to believe that such evidence will be found,” Scalia said from the bench.
In his dissent, Scalia wrote