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Supreme Court to consider DNA evidence collection

In February a Supreme Court ruling could shape the laws that govern DNA evidence collection by law enforcement officials. Each state has its own laws governing DNA collection, which many believe is more invasive than a fingerprint or breath test.

Generally speaking, police officers need a warrant to collect DNA evidence. A warrant is granted by a judge if law enforcement officials can show both probable cause and that the sample will likely provide evidence of a crime.

Judges may not accept the request for a warrant if police do not meet the high standard of showing that DNA evidence will more likely than not yield evidence of a crime. That depends on both the judge’s discretion and the unique circumstances of the case.

In some places, however, DNA collection without a warrant is permissible under the law. The Supreme Court is set to hear a challenge against one such law on February 26. At issue is a Maryland law that allows police to collect DNA from someone who has been arrested for a crime but not charged or convicted. The law relies upon the assumption that arrestees forfeit some of their Fourth Amendment protections against unlawful search and seizure.

That law is troubling because it automatically strips fundamental rights from people who have been arrested, even if they are not guilty of the offense in question. The Supreme Court will be tasked with deciding how to balance the privacy rights of arrestees with the public’s interest in finding criminals and bringing them to justice.

Source: The FindLaw Blotter, “When Can Police Collect Your DNA?” Maryam Ansari, Jan. 23, 2013

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