The case was described by Justice Samuel Alito as “the most important criminal procedure case that this court has heard in decades”: does the Supreme Court affirm or deny the constitutionality of police swabbing for DNA during a routine arrest, the same way they take photographs and fingerprints? Do we have a right to privacy when it comes to our genetic material, or can the police take it and put it in a database at their discretion? They finally decided with a vote of 5-4 that, at least in the case of arrests for serious crimes, as Justice Anthony Kennedy voted, it is legal and reasonable to take criminal DNA and put it in a database.
“Taking and analyzing a cheek swab of the arrestee DNA is, like fingerprinting and photographing, a legitimate police booking procedure that is reasonable under the Fourth Amendment,” said Kennedy.
Scalia, who voted otherwise, disagrees, as Boston.com reported, “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,” he said speaking on behalf of the other three who voted against. “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.”
His criticisms align with a love of liberty. This is the opposite direction we’ve seen with modern technology encroaching on all sides, and with a general public that has a love of security. A culture where hundreds of video cameras have videotaped you with a simple walk downtown, and where your DNA can be taken for anything at all looks a lot more like the insect-colony dystopias, or the movie Gattaca, which concerned a future world where DNA profiling determined daily life. As Scalia said, “The proud men who wrote the charter of our liberties would not have been so eager to open their mouths for royal inspection.”
As for the mindset that ponders, “What does an innocent man have to fear from the police?” the idea that the police need a warrant at all doesn’t quite ring a bell.
Said Jayann and Dave Sepich, whose daughter Katie was raped and strangled at the age of 22, according to USA today, “this just means that so many horrible murderers and rapists are going to be taken off the street,” so that other families won’t suffer as hers did. Now “the remaining 24 states that need to pass these laws can do it and feel great about it.”
Meanwhile, Alonzo Jay King, the subject of the Supreme Court Decision, must now serve life in prison for his prior conviction of rape, as was proved in court using a DNA swab picked up from him later on unrelated charges.