The US Supreme Court ruled Monday in a 5-4 decision to allow police to take DNA swabs from detainees without first obtaining a warrant or charging them with a crime, ruling that the practice is essentially a modern-day version of fingerprinting.
"When officers make an arrest supported by probable cause to hold for a serious offense and they bring the suspect to the station to be detained in custody,” Justice Anthony M. Kennedy wrote, according to the New York Times, “taking and analyzing a cheek swab of the arrestee’s DNA is, like fingerprinting and photographing, a legitimate police booking procedure that is reasonable under the Fourth Amendment."
The case came before the Supreme Court due to a controversial 2009 Maryland case, where police detained 26-year-old Alonzo King on second-degree assault charges and took a swab of his DNA in the process, later linking King to a previously unsolved rape from six years earlier.
Justice Anthony Kennedy upheld the ruling, and was joined by Chief Justice John Roberts and associate Justices Clarence Thomas, Stephen Breyer and Samuel Alito. Dissenters included conservative (and recently privacy-concerned) Justice Antonin Scalia, who was joined in the ruling by liberals Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagen.
The Maryland DNA swabbing rule is only in place for those arrested for violent crimes, NBC News noted, although the justices expressed concern that the law might be interpreted more broadly — and as Roberts noted, could theoretically even be applied at police traffic stops.
“Today’s judgment will, to be sure, have the beneficial effect of solving more crimes,” wrote dissenting justice Scalia, according to NBC, in an opinion that he read out loud before the court. “Then again, so would the taking of DNA samples from anyone who flies on an airplane.”
“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,” Scalia added, according to The Times.