Supreme Court OKs Warrantless DNA Collection

Generic image (Thinkstock)
Generic image (Thinkstock)

In a 5-4 decision announced on Monday that created what the American Civil Liberties Union called "a gaping new exception to the Fourth Amendment," the Supreme Court ruled that police can use cheek swabs to take DNA from people they arrest, the Washington Post reports.


It's "like fingerprinting and photographing, a legitimate police booking procedure that is reasonable under the Fourth Amendment," Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote for the court's five-justice majority in Maryland v. King.

The case arose from the arrest of a 26-year-old Maryland man, Alonzo King, who was arrested in 2009 on a charge of second-degree assault. The police took a swab of DNA from his cheek and matched it to an unsolved rape, for which King was convicted and sentenced to life in prison. A Maryland court ruled that the DNA sample was an unreasonable search and reversed the conviction.

But the four dissenting justices said that the [Supreme Court] was allowing a major change in police powers.

"Make no mistake about it: because of today's decision, your DNA can be taken and entered into a national database if you are ever arrested, rightly or wrongly, and for whatever reason," conservative Justice Antonin Scalia said in a sharp dissent which he read aloud in the courtroom. "This will solve some extra crimes, to be sure. But so would taking your DNA when you fly on an airplane — surely the TSA must know the ‘identity' of the flying public. For that matter, so would taking your children's DNA when they start public school."

Twenty-eight states and the federal government now take DNA swabs after arrests. But a Maryland court was one of the first to say that it was illegal for that state to take Alonzo King's DNA without approval from a judge, saying King had "a sufficiently weighty and reasonable expectation of privacy against warrantless, suspicionless searches" under the Fourth Amendment.

But the high court's decision reverses that ruling and reinstates King's rape conviction, which came after police took his DNA during an unrelated arrest. Kennedy wrote the decision, and was joined by Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Samuel Alito, Clarence Thomas and Stephen Breyer. Scalia was joined in his dissent by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan.

Read more at the Washington Post.