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.)


Justice And Peace Center's Mercy Store Holds Grand Opening This Saturday

Chattanooga’s new Justice and Peace Center will open the doors to its fair trade Mercy Store with a grand opening celebration at  6 p.m. on Saturday , followed by a book signing by local author, Judith Pederson-Benn at  7 p.m. Mercy Junction is a ministry of the Presbytery of East Tennessee that operates the new Justice and Peace Center at St. Andrews on Union ... (click for more)

Covenant Transportation Has Increased Revenue For First Quarter

Covenant Transportation Group, Inc. announced Thursday financial and operating results for the first quarter ended March 31. Highlights for the quarter included the following: Total revenue of $167.2 million, an increase of 3.9 percent compared with the first quarter of 2014. Freight revenue of $143.3 million (excludes revenue from fuel surcharges), an increase of 13.5 ... (click for more)

Woman Injured, Man Dead After Shooting Outside Collegedale Walmart

One man is dead and a woman injured after a shooting near the Collegedale Walmart on Sunday afternoon. The man apparently shot the woman in the lower extremities prior to taking his own life. The incident was at the Game Stop in Ooltewah around 2:20 p.m. The woman was taken to the hospital with gunshot wounds to the legs. (click for more)

Anonymous Facebook Posters Pose Possibility Of Signal Schools Separating From Hamilton County School System

"Should Signal Mountain Schools separate from the Hamilton County School System?"   That’s the question posted on a Facebook page titled, simply, Signal Mountain Independent School District.   The creators of the page do not identify themselves. “(W)e certainly don’t want our kids dragged into the issue or targeted for special treatment by any ... (click for more)

The Heart Of A Teacher Makes A Difference - And Response (2)

In less than four weeks, I expect to be one of 216 graduating seniors from East Hamilton School. One could say all possible variables help a student rise to the highest levels in school; but a student is more than his environment or genetic code. He is a mixture of his own propensity and dedication to academics, coupled with a systemic team of mentors who give their all as a student’s ... (click for more)

Roy Exum: FBI To Study ‘Lickers’

About 25 years ago there was a terrifying movie called “The Silence of the Lambs.” It was so good it won the Academy Awards in all five categories – Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Director and Adapted Screenplay. Further, Anthony Hopkins and Jodie Foster were brilliant, but do you remember the third “star?” Scott Glenn played a character named “Jack Crawford,” the ... (click for more)