Entries in DNA (2)


Supreme Court Upholds 'Minor Intrusion' of Arrestee DNA Swabs

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- The Supreme Court Monday upheld a Maryland law that allows officials to take DNA without a warrant from those who have been arrested, but not convicted of a serious crime.

Justice Anthony Kennedy, for a 5-4 majority, wrote, “the Court concludes that DNA identification of arrestees is a reasonable search that can be considered part of a routine booking procedure.”

He called the buccal swab to the mouth to obtain DNA a “minor intrusion.”

“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, 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,” Kennedy wrote.

Kennedy was joined in his opinion by Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Clarence Thomas, Stephen Breyer and Samuel Alito.

Justice Antonin Scalia dissented from the opinion and was joined by Justices Elena Kagan, Sonia Sotomayor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Scalia said Monday’s decision represents an “incursion” upon the Fourth Amendment’s ban against unreasonable search and seizure.

“Make no mistake about it,” Scalia writes. “As an entirely predictable consequence of today’s decision your DNA can be taken and entered into a national DNA data base if you are ever arrested, rightly or wrongly, and for whatever reason.”

He said that “solving unsolved crimes” is a noble objective but it “occupies a lower place in the American pantheon of noble objectives than the protection of our people from suspicion-less law-enforcement searches.”

While all states require DNA from individuals convicted of a felony, the federal government and 26 states also take DNA samples from at least some arrestees.

The case concerns Alonzo Jay King Jr., who claims his constitutional rights were violated when he was arrested in 2009 for assault. At the time of his arrest, pursuant to Maryland’s DNA Collection Act, officials swabbed his cheek and collected his DNA without a warrant.

His 2009 sample was later matched in a state database to DNA from a 2003 rape case. It was a cold case involving a 53-year-old female victim in Maryland. Based on the new evidence, King was eventually charged with the 2003 rape and robbery. He is serving a life sentence.

Lawyers for King appealed the decision, arguing that taking the warrantless DNA from someone who has been arrested but not convicted of a serious crime violates the Fourth Amendment’s ban on unreasonable search and seizure. The Court of Appeals of Maryland ruled in King’s favor.

During arguments in February, Justice Alito said of the case, “I think this is perhaps the most important criminal procedure case that this Court has heard in decades.”

Kannon K. Shanmugam, a lawyer for King, argued that the government has no right to forego ordinary rules requiring a warrant and probable cause before forcing an arrestee to submit to a search involving a physical intrusion into the body for investigatory purposes.

“Our DNA is our blueprint: an individual’s DNA contains not only deeply personal information about the subject’s medical history and genetic conditions, but also information that can be used to make predictions about a host of physical an behavioral characteristics, ranging from a subject’s age, ethnicity, and intelligence to the subject’s propensity for violence and addiction,” Shanmugam wrote in court papers.

But lawyers for the state of Maryland defend the law. In court, Katherine Winfree, chief deputy attorney general in Baltimore, pointed out that since 2009, when Maryland began to collect DNA samples from arrestees charged with violent crimes and burglary, there had been “225 matches, 75 prosecutions and 42 convictions.”

The purpose of the law was to identify people “and to use the information to make bail determinations for people who are validly in their custody,” she said.

The U.S. government argued in favor of the law, saying officials are forbidden to look at the DNA for anything except identification information.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


Should Cash-Strapped States Compensate Exonerated Felons?

Dick Luria/Photodisc(NEW YORK) -- One year after DNA evidence exonerated Alan Northrop, who had served 17 years in prison for a rape and kidnapping he didn't commit, he's still waiting for the state of Washington to compensate him for its mistake.

"It's really great being out, but I'm struggling too," Northrop said in an interview. The 46-year-old father of three left prison with little money, no job and stunted emotional and technical skills. And even though he's found work at a metal fabrication shop, he says he's barely making ends meet.

"They just let you go and that's that. No apology. No nothing," he said. "They need to make it right. It doesn't matter what the state deficit is. These are innocent lives that have had a lot of years taken away and they need to make it right so we can get going again."

Northrop's case is among a skyrocketing number of wrongful convictions of the innocent discovered over the past decade with the evolution of reliable DNA testing technology, experts say.

Now, many states, which face looming budget deficits and competing fiscal priorities, are grappling with how to respond to the trend.

Between 1989 and 1999, there were 66 exonerations by DNA evidence alone, according to figures compiled by the National Innocence Project, a legal advocacy group. In the decade since, there have been 203 more.

Twenty-three states, including Washington, don't offer any financial compensation for the wrongfully incarcerated. In the 27 states that do, the reparations vary widely.

Texas, which has the most thorough compensation program in the country, awards $80,000 for each year of wrongful incarceration, plus $25,000 per year spent on parole or as a registered sex offender. The state also provides an annuity and support services.

Meanwhile, New Hampshire offers a maximum $20,000 for the entirety of a wrongful conviction. Utah awards the monetary equivalent of the average annual salary of the state's non-agricultural worker. And Montana only provides the wrongfully incarcerated with educational aid.

President George W. Bush signed into law in 2004 a requirement that wrongfully convicted federal inmates should receive up to $50,000 per year spent behind bars, or $100,000 per year if the time was spent on death row.

Advocates for the exonerated want those figures to be a minimum level of compensation in states nationwide.

A 1996 study by the Ohio State University Criminal Justice Research Center estimated that about 10,000 people in the United States are wrongfully convicted of serious crimes every year, largely because of eyewitness misidentification.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

ABC News Radio