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.)


Georgia’s Unemployment Rate Rises To 5.4 Percent In December

The Georgia Department of Labor (GDOL) announced on Thursday that the state’s seasonally-adjusted unemployment rate increased for the fourth consecutive month to 5.4 percent in December, up one-tenth of a percentage point from 5.3 percent in November. In December 2015, the unemployment rate was 5.5 percent. The rate rose as the state’s labor force grew and the number of new ... (click for more)

Federal Grant To Help Workers Dislocated By Wildfire

Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development Commissioner Burns Phillips today announced the Department has received a $5,824,000 grant from the United States Department of Labor to assist in recovery efforts following a wildfire in Sevier County last November.       The U.S. Department of Labor approved a National Dislocated Worker Grant, with $2 ... (click for more)

Haslam Unveils Comprehensive Tax Cut And Transportation Proposal Including Higher Gas Tax And Vehicle Registration Fee

Joined by mayors from across the state and leaders in the manufacturing and trucking industries, Governor Bill Haslam on Wednesday announced "a comprehensive and strategic plan to cut taxes on food and manufacturing while updating how the state provides Tennesseans the safe and reliable transportation network needed to support future job growth." The IMPROVE Act, “Improving ... (click for more)

Big Woody's Tree Service Employee Killed In Fall On Signal Mountain

An employee of Woody's Tree Service fell to his death 150 feet off a bluff while trimming trees on Signal Mountain on Wednesday. At  11:22 a.m. , a 911 call was made by an employee of the tree service reporting a man in his early 30s had fallen off a bluff the mountain while trimming trees on private property. Walden's Ridge Emergency Services responded to 6202 ... (click for more)

Beyond Freedom Of Speech - And Response

Yes, most people know about the First Amendment to our Constitution, "The right, guaranteed by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, to express beliefs and ideas without unwarranted government restriction."  I being a "deplorable" draw the line when people block traffic, try to disrupt, and even stop an activity through malice and disregard for others. Case being ... (click for more)

Roy Exum: Where Is Central’s Auditorium?

I am surely one of the biggest proponents of high school athletics there is, especially after half a decade of being an eye witness to the vast array of lessons that are learned every day by anyone associated with sports. That said, I have watched the Hamilton County Commission waffle on a $500,000 track at Central High School with a certain curiosity because the same high school ... (click for more)