Lee Davis: Supreme Court To Hear DNA Collection Challenge

Tuesday, February 5, 2013 - by Lee Davis
Lee Davis
Lee Davis

Later this month the U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in a case involving a challenge by privacy rights advocates to the practice of taking DNA from people who have been arrested, but not yet convicted of a crime. The case is an important one, as many legal experts believe the decision will either end the practice or make it the new national norm.

In 2003, Virginia became the first state to pass such a law, requiring that anyone arrested for a serious crime have a DNA sample taken by a mouth swab. The law was passed in an attempt for law enforcement officials to quickly identify possible violent criminals and obtain DNA to help tie them to other crimes.

Since Virginia made the first move a decade ago, 27 other states and the federal government now collect DNA samples from some or all those who are arrested but not yet convicted of serious crimes.

Beyond taking fingerprints, most jail bookings now involve taking an oral DNA swab. The practice is set to become even more widespread given that President Obama signed the Katie Sepich Enhanced DNA Collection Act just last month. The new law will help pay the initial costs associated with starting a DNA collection program for other states.

Some states don’t stop at swabbing those arrested for violent crimes. California, for instance, takes DNA samples from those arrested for nonviolent matters, including drug crimes, credit card fraud and burglary. They say taking DNA samples from a wider pool of arrestees has led to the capture and conviction of rapists and murderers.

The issue before the Supreme Court is not how effective the matter is from a law enforcement perspective, but whether such DNA collection practices are constitutional given that the person has not yet been convicted of having committed any crime. It is more of a question in cases where DNA evidence has nothing to do with the crime, such as in drug cases or property crimes.

The case before the Supreme Court is Maryland v. King. The issue presented is whether requiring DNA samples from someone not yet convicted amounts to an unreasonable search under the Fourth Amendment. Back in 2009, Alonzo King was arrested for waiving a shotgun in public. This was a felony in Maryland and resulted in a DNA test. King later pled guilty to a reduced charge, something that would not have required a DNA sample be taken. However, it was too late, as the DNA sample returned a match for a case several years before that identified him as the man who broke into a house a raped a woman. King was ultimately convicted and sentenced to life behind bars.

The Maryland Supreme Court later threw out his conviction and said that police should not be allowed to take a DNA sample without a search warrant and a reasonable belief that the suspect had committed another crime justifying such a DNA sample. The Court reasoned that DNA samples contain a massive amount of incredibly personal information, vastly more than is contained in a fingerprint, and thus deserve protection. Here is the Maryland full opinion.

Several important cases are currently on hold as judges across the country wait to hear from the Supreme Court. A significant DNA case is pending before the California Supreme Court as well as the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, both of which have said they will wait to hear how the Supreme Court decides the matter before issuing their opinions.

Read: “Supreme Court to hear fight over taking DNA from arrested people,” by David Savage, published at LATimes.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)