The United States Supreme Court decided that law enforcement can collect DNA samples from people arrested for crimes. The decision was a close decision with 5 of the 9 justices voting that laws allowing for collection of DNA samples did not violate the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution. The case presented to the Court stemmed from a Maryland law. Colorado has a similar law on the books that allows for DNA collection from people arrested for a felony. The Colorado law allows for collection of a DNA sample upon arrest and does not require a conviction.
The Fourth Amendment protects citizens from unreasonable searches and seizures by the government. In upholding the law allowing for DNA collection, the Court determined that such collection is not an unreasonable search or seizure. Proponents of collecting DNA samples argue that having access to DNA databases will aid law enforcement in solving crimes that may otherwise go unsolved. In contrast, opponents of such laws argue that taking a DNA sample is intrusive and is a violation of the Fourth Amendment. Interestingly, one of the justices who opined that the Maryland law violated the Fourth Amendment was Justice Scalia who has a reputation for being conservative and, generally, siding with law enforcement. In Scalia’s dissent, his written opinion disagreeing with the majority opinion, he argues that the benefit of solving some crimes does not outweigh an individual’s right to be free from unreasonable search and seizure.
Generally, when trying to decide whether a search or seizure is unreasonable, the courts use a reasonable person standard. Under the reasonable person standard, the courts consider whether a reasonable person has a reasonable expectation of privacy in the place to be searched or the item to be seized. If a person has a reasonable expectation of privacy, then the law generally requires a warrant before the place can be searched or the item can be seized. If there is no warrant, then the courts consider whether there is an exception to the warrant requirement. There are multiple exceptions to the warrant requirement.
In the Supreme Court decision, the Court did not seem to move beyond the threshold analysis of whether the search or seizure is reasonable. The majority decided that taking a DNA swab is minimally intrusive and likened taking a DNA swab to taking fingerprints and photographs, which are acceptable booking procedures.