Lee Davis: Supreme Court Justices Grapple With Critical DNA Testing Case

Thursday, February 28, 2013 - by Lee Davis
Lee Davis
Lee Davis
Adam Liptak at the New York Times discussed a crucial case currently before the U.S. Supreme Court and how the impact of the decision could be felt across police stations and in court rooms across the country for years to come. The justices appeared to be aware of just how important the case was, with Justice Alito saying that he though it was possibly “the most important criminal procedure case that this court has heard in decades.”

The case deals with whether police are allowed to take DNA samples from people who have been arrested. The case began after a suspect in Maryland, Alonzo Jay King, Jr.
, was arrested on assault charges back in 2009. A sample of King’s DNA was taken by swabbing his cheek at the time of his arrest, but prior to any conviction, and it later matched evidence from a rape that took place several years prior. King was eventually convicted for the rape and appealed the case to the Maryland Court of Appeals which agreed that taking DNA from those arrested but not yet convicted violates the Fourth Amendment.

While it may be true the DNA collection process is valuable to police departments and has helped nabbed criminals, that does not mean it should be permitted, a point aptly made by Antonin Scalia. Justice Scalia, in responding to a claim that the DNA evidence helped obtain 42 convictions in Maryland, said it was great news and he thought if the police conducted a bunch of other unreasonable searches and seizures they might get even more. He made clear that he thought the effectiveness of the program proved nothing. In an odd alliance, Justice Ginsburg voiced her agreement that the DNA testing practice might be problematic under the Fourth Amendment which requires a warrant before police can conduct a search.

The justices never even discussed the issue of collecting DNA from suspects who had already been convicted of crimes, instead the issue was solely over what the Fourth Amendment might say regarding those suspects who have only been arrested. Justice Roberts said that while Maryland’s law limits the DNA samples to those arrested for serious crimes, there was nothing preventing the law from siding down a slippery slope, perhaps authorizing such DNA searches for everyone pulled over for speeding. Playing a good devil’s advocate, Roberts also said he wondered about the expectation of privacy in DNA when it can be so easily obtained. For instance, Roberts said that simply taking a sip of water leaves behind a wealth of private information.

Alito said that the technology at issue is potentially hugely important and could be used to solve a multitude of murders, rapes and other heinous crimes. He appeared to see the value of it, asking, “Why isn’t this the fingerprinting of the 21st century?” This issue seemed to be the focus of oral arguments, with King’s attorneys saying that DNA and fingerprints differ in that fingerprints are used almost solely to identify people while DNA is used to solve cold cases. We’ll have to wait a while to hear what the justices think.

Source: “Justices Wrestle Over Allowing DNA Sampling at Time of Arrest,” by Adam Liptak, published at NYTimes.com.


---

(Lee Davis is a Chattanooga attorney who can be reached at lee@davis-hoss.com or at 266-0605.)


Tennessee American Water Submits 2015 Infrastructure Capital Projects

Tennessee American Water has submitted to the Tennessee Regulatory Authority its 2015 infrastructure capital projects in conjunction with the new alternative rate mechanism.   Approved earlier in 2014 by the Tennessee Regulatory Authority, the alternative rate mechanism creates a process whereby Tennessee American Water will annually submit by December 1 its capital infrastructure ... (click for more)

Supreme Court Reinstates Jury Verdict Awarding MTSU Employee Damages

The Tennessee Supreme Court unanimously reinstated a jury verdict, finding that a former maintenance employee of Middle Tennessee State University (MTSU) suffered unlawful retaliation through the actions of his supervisor. Jim Ferguson, a Japanese-American, argued that shortly after he filed a discrimination lawsuit against MTSU, his supervisor retaliated against him by requiring ... (click for more)

Downtown Chattanooga Apartment Complex Fetches $15 Million

Walnut Commons, the first downtown apartment complex built in many years, sold for $15 million, one of the developers said. John Clark said the initial estimate on the project was $11 million and it wound up costing around $12 million to build. "We're very pleased with the sale," he said. Mr. Clark, along with partners David Hudson and Bob McKenzie, are selling their stock ... (click for more)

Hamilton County Principal Ronald Hughes Named Tennessee's 2014-15 Principal Of The Year

A Hamilton County elementary school principal and an Anderson County supervisor have earned top honors for their work in Tennessee education. Ronald Hughes, principal of Apison Elementary School in Chattanooga, was named Tennessee’s 2014-15 Principal of the Year. He has served as principal at Apison Elementary for the past six years, and spent three decades working in Tennessee ... (click for more)

Congratulations To Ron Hughes

Hearty congratulations to Ron Hughes for being selected as Tennessee State Elementary Principal of the Year for 2014. Wherever Ron has been assigned as principal, he has exhibited strong leadership both academically and morally. His faith in God and his love for the students of Hamilton County have guided his actions and everyone that has benefited from the excellent education ... (click for more)

Roy Exum: Brittany’s Days Dwindle

So here we are, facing what is known as “Devil’s Night” before Halloween comes, and the almost macabre news now comes that Brittany Maynard, the beautiful girl who has chosen to end her life as soon as Saturday, is struggling to meet her own deadline. She has inoperable brain cancer and, at best, only months to live. The 29-year-old, who was married shortly before her devastating ... (click for more)