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SCOTUS rules 5-4 in favor of law enforcement agencies collecting DNA of arrestees

An exterior view of the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, DC.
An exterior view of the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, DC.
Alex Wong/Getty Images

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In a 5-4 decision split not along the usual political lines, the Supreme Court ruled this morning that both state and federal law enforcement agencies have the right to collect DNA of people arrested for “serious” crimes, regardless of whether or not they are eventually convicted of the crime.

The State of Maryland argued that DNA collection has become a powerful tool for law enforcement and that collection upon arrest does not violate our Fourth Amendment right protecting us against warrantless search. But Justice Antonin Scalia, writing in the dissent, suggested that the founding fathers wouldn’t have consented “to open their mouths for royal inspection.” Currently, 27 states collect DNA material from arrestees in felony cases, and this ruling allows them to continue to do so.

Is DNA collection upon arrest a violation of individual rights? Or should law enforcement not be denied an effective tool in crime solving? How will law enforcement define “serious crime” in order to collect DNA? How will DNA be stored? DNA is different than a fingerprint, but should the use of DNA be limited to a simple identity tool?

Lisa McElroy, Associate Professor of Law, Earle Mack School of Law, Drexel University; Supreme Court scholar