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.)


Chattanooga Chamber Business Calendar Oct. 3-10

MON/3 Bubbly vs. Brews (A Startup Week Event) 5:30-7:30 p.m. Chattanooga Chamber Alley: 811 Broad St. The purpose of this event is corporate matchmaking with local startups. If you’re a startup, click here to register.   MON/3 – NEWtrepreneur? 10 Bookkeeping Mistakes to Avoid from the Start (StartUp Week) Noon – 1:30 p.m. TN Small Business ... (click for more)

Supreme Court Abolishes Mutuality Element Of Collateral Estoppel

In a unanimous opinion, the Tennessee Supreme Court has modified the state’s approach to collateral estoppel – a legal principle governing the relationships and issues between parties that are involved in successive legal proceedings. The decision will prevent a person who has been convicted of a criminal offense from contesting guilt in a subsequent civil lawsuit brought by the ... (click for more)

Boyd Questions Effectiveness Of Read 20 Program; Coppinger Defends It

County Commissioner Tim Boyd said he questions the effectiveness of the Read 20 pre-K literacy program and wants the director to come before the County Commission to answer questions.   County Mayor Jim Coppinger defended the program, noting that it was the creation of former County Mayor Claude Ramsey.   Commissioner Boyd said the low literacy level hearing ... (click for more)

Corker Says Without Budget Reform, Washington Is “Laying A Huge Burden On Future Generations”

In remarks on the Senate floor  on Wednesday , Senator Bob Corker joined a number of colleagues to discuss the broken federal budget process.   “The processes that we have in place make it impossible for us to really deal with our country’s fiscal issues,” said Senator Corker. “Today is the perfect example of that: we pass a continuing resolution ... (click for more)

Jimmy Templeton Will Be Missed At The City Yards

If only we had known about the Chattanooga City Council's planned retirement send off for Jimmy Templeton of Public Works, the room would have been filled to overflowing with his friends and admirers - including me.   I have had the honor of knowing and working with Jimmy since the 1970's (and also knew his father "Big Jim").  Jimmy was a strong right hand for whoever ... (click for more)

Roy Exum: The Knobfather & Me

I’ve seen some beautiful things in my life. I’ve eaten dinner inside the Eiffel Tower with the city of Paris all aglitter below. I’ve been sprayed by champagne in the Dallas Cowboys’ dressing room after they won the Super Bowl. I’ve stood both at the top and at the bottom of the Grand Canyon. I’ve snorkeled in the Great Exuma islands, learned to snow ski in the Austrian Alps, and ... (click for more)