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U.S. Supreme Court approves DNA samples for arrestees

In what was described as "the most important criminal procedure case" heard in decades, the United States Supreme Court ruled that law enforcement agencies can take DNA samples of people who are arrested. The process, which commonly is conducted through a cheek swab, gives law enforcement an important tool in being able to link perpetrators to unrelated crimes (and cold cases).

The 5-4 ruling was seen as a victory for law enforcement and a defeat to civil liberties advocates, who believe that it will further erode constitutional protections of those in the system for insignificant crimes.

Writing for the majority, Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote that "DNA identification of arrestees is a reasonable search that can be considered part of a routine booking procedure." He likened it to fingerprinting and photographing, which have been part of the process of identifying arrestees for generations. As such, it was a reasonable action under the Fourth Amendment. 

Writing for the dissent, Justice Antonin Scalia believes that DNA identification will lead to violations of the Fourth Amendment. He said (in the courtroom) "Make no mistake about it: because of today's decision, your DNA can be entered into a national database if you are ever arrested, rightly or wrongly, and for whatever reason."

Scalia's ominous warning was ostensibly related to potential arrests based on sketchy (or substandard) probable cause would give police the right to take DNA simply to see if a perpetrator could be linked to other crimes (such as unresolved sex crimes) without the use of a search warrant. Moreover, the question of what happens to stored DNA after charges are dropped has not been answered.

Source: USA Today.com, Supreme Court OKs DNA swab of people under arrest, June 3, 2013

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