GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) - In a 5-4 split decision, the United States Supreme Court ruled Monday that police agencies can now collect a person's DNA without a warrant at the time they are arrested -- much like collecting fingerprints -- instead of waiting until they're convicted of a crime.
Those against the ruling say it's yet another erosion of Fourth Amendment rights, which protect against unreasonable searches and seizures. But law enforcement agencies say it's a major step forward in helping them close unsolved crimes.
The Supreme Court ruled that police can collect DNA at the time of arrest, when a suspect is still presumed innocent.
"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," Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote in the majority opinion.
Michigan State Police wholeheartedly support the ruling, saying DNA at arrest will give them more opportunity to check against unsolved crimes, rather than waiting to collect from those already convicted.
"We respect individuals' privacy, but you have to balance the rights to privacy against public safety," Sgt. Dwayne Gill, the legislative liaison and policy advisor, said.
But the American Civil Liberties Union says the ruling is a major blow to Fourth Amendment privacy rights. It argues that authorities should have "individualized suspicion" that a suspect committed a crime, rather than simply running the DNA to see if a match appears.
"There's nothing more private than our DNA and the idea of a large government database of DNA is really very concerning," Miriam Aukerman of the ACLU said.
Justice Antonin Scalia wrote a fiery dissenting opinion for the minority, warning about the erosion of privacy.
"This will solve some extra crimes, to be sure. But so would taking your DNA whenever you fly on an airplane," Scalia wrote.
"Or take your DNA to get a driver's license," Aukerman added. "The logic of the opinion of the majority is that the government could do that."
MSP says it will only collect the DNA of people arrested for felonies. Pending state legislation -- Senate Bill 0105 -- it's possible MSP would return the samples if acquitted. Michigan is one of 26 states already collecting DNA from arrestees of specific violent crimes.
"We do now collect them for felony arrests for violent crimes now already," Gill said.
The Supreme Court case stemmed from a Maryland case in which a man was arrested for assault and convicted of rape based on collected DNA.
In Michigan, there is already a backlog processing DNA at the Michigan State Police Crime Lab. The ACLU brought up that point, saying the delay may lead to violations of Sixth Amendment rights to a speedy and public trial. But MSP said it is hiring more scientists to try to speed up the process.
Michigan Senate Bill 0105
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