By Susan Parnas Frederick
In a 5-4 decision on Monday, the United States Supreme Court ruled that when officers make an arrest for a serious offense based on probable cause and bring the suspect to the station to be detained in custody, taking and analyzing a cheek swap of the arrestee’s DNA is reasonable under the Fourth Amendment. The Court likened the DNA swap to other legitimate booking procedures such as fingerprinting and photographing.
The decision reversed the Maryland Court of Appeals ruling that the Maryland DNA Collection Act as applied to arrestees, violated the 4th Amendment as an unconstitutional warrantless search which violated the suspect’s right to privacy. The State and Local Legal Center, representing NCSL and six other national associations of state and local governments and a national law enforcement association, filed an amicus brief in this case supporting the Maryland law. [Previous sentence corrected 6/10/13]The Court acknowledged that the use of DNA technology is critical to law enforcement, medicine and science. Twenty-nine states and the federal government have arrestee DNA laws similar to Maryland’s. The Court also ruled that Maryland’s law contained sufficient safeguards to protect arrestees. The State and Local Legal Center's amicus brief was persuasive in arguing that the use of DNA by state and local police has documented successes in solving crime and that the government’s interest in solving crime with the proper safeguards outweighs an arrestee’s right to privacy in those circumstances.
Susan Parnas Frederick is Senior Federal Affairs Counsel for NCSL and works in NCSL’s Washington, D.C. office.