It is common knowledge that if you are convicted of a serious crime a DNA sample will be taken and placed in the National DNA database for use by law enforcement. What is less known is that it is common police practice in many states to take a DNA sample from people who have been arrested, but not yet convicted of a crime.
Last Tuesday, the Supreme Court heard arguments on a case, which came about as the result of a Maryland statute, challenging the practice of collecting DNA samples from arrestees. The Maryland statute that popularized the practice arose after the brutal rape and murder of Katie Sepich in 2003. Despite DNA evidence, it took over 3 years to identify her killer.
Proponents of the law point to the Katie Sepich case, noting that it is an important law enforcement tool to seeing justice done.
"Behind every number is a human story, a case in which a DNA sample collected from a felony arrestee played a crucial role in solving a violent crime," says a brief submitted by all 49 other states backing Maryland's law.
However, civil liberty advocates and opponents of the practice note that collecting DNA samples before conviction increases the possibility that errors could be committed. In addition, the DNA is inherently subject to contamination, misinterpretation, mislabeling, and fraud.
Courts generally recognize that someone who has been arrested has more of a right to privacy than someone who has been convicted. Therefore, opponents say, a DNA sample taken from an arrestee is a bodily intrusion requiring a search warrant. However, proponents argue that there is nothing in the DNA markers that discloses anything private.
It will be up to the court to balance the needs of law enforcement with an individual’s right to privacy. It is worth noting the increased trend in personal information available to law enforcement agencies, with a recent addition of an FBI tattoo database.
With over 12 million arrests in the United States each year, the Supreme Court’s ruling will surely have an impact on criminal justice and law enforcement practices.
If you have been charged with a crime or are under investigation for criminal activity, it is imperative that you consult with an experienced criminal defense lawyer as soon as possible. Contact San Diego Criminal Defense Attorney at (619) 239 2186 to set up an initial consultation.