Supreme Court Okays Warrantless DNA Sampling

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Police can force suspects arrested for serious crimes to give DNA samples, a divided Supreme Court ruled, 5 votes to 4, on Monday (PDF). Law enforcement officials in 28 states already routinely collect DNA from alleged criminals, but privacy advocates had argued that taking suspects’ DNA without a search warrant is a violation of the Fourth Amendment’s protection against unreasonable searches and seizures. The high court’s decision could lead to a massive national DNA database, conservative Justice Antonin Scalia warned in a dissent joined by three of the more liberal justices.

The case, Maryland v. King, originated from the arrest of Alonzo King, whose DNA was taken against his will after he was picked up for a gun-related assault charge. King was convicted of the gun charge, but officials also matched his DNA to evidence from an unsolved rape case. That, King argued, violated his Fourth Amendment rights. Maryland’s Supreme Court agreed. (For more background on the case, read our report from February.)

The Supreme Court’s five-justice majority struck down the Maryland court’s ruling, noting that DNA sampling is routine police procedure. “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,” Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote for the majority.

The other four justices didn’t take the decision so lightly. “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,” wrote Scalia, who sometimes splits with his right-wing colleagues on civil liberties issues. Justices Ruth Bader Ginsberg, Elena Kagan, and Sonia Sotomayor joined Scalia’s dissent.

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SIX TRUTHS

Reclaiming power from those who abuse it often starts with telling the truth. And in "This Is How Authoritarians Get Defeated," MoJo's Monika Bauerlein unpacks six truths to remember during the homestretch of an election where democracy, truth, and decency are on the line.

Truth #1: The chaos is the point.

Truth #2: Team Reality is bigger than it seems.

Truth #3: Facebook owns this.

Truth #4: When we go to work, we're in the fight.

Truth #5: It's about minority rule.

Truth #6: The only thing that can save us is…us.

Please take a moment to see how all these truths add up, because what happens in the weeks and months ahead will reverberate for at least a generation and we better be prepared.

And if you think journalism like Mother Jones'—that calls it like it is, that will never acquiesce to power, that looks where others don't—can help guide us through this historic, high-stakes moment, and you're able to right now, please help us reach our $350,000 goal by October 31 with a donation today. It's all hands on deck for democracy.

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