DNA Forensics Update

Posted by Pete Shanks November 28, 2012
Biopolitical Times

The U.S. Supreme Court has decided to consider Maryland vs. King, a potentially very significant case about the collection by police of DNA from suspects rather than convicts. (For background, see this post.) The Court's decision, expected next year, will likely affect at least 27 states, and Federal law. The summary at Lexology, an online commercial law publication, isolates the main issue:

High tech squares off with the Fourth Amendment

No one can really predict how the Supreme Court will view the issues involved. Maryland's Attorney General Doug Gansler is predicting a 9–0 ruling upholding the law. But Stephen Mercer of the Office of the Public Defender clearly disagrees:

The fourth amendment and article 26 [Maryland] were intended to place an obstacle between the exercise of police power and citizens.

Criminal lawyer Marcus Berghahn performs a nice tap-dance:

Where the purpose of the DNA collection is the detection of crime and prosecution of an individual, the statute will not likely be constitutional. To the extent that the DNA collection is framed as using the data obtained from the DNA to identify the individual, the statute may be constitutional.

Meanwhile, Wisconsin, like many other states, is about to consider a "DNA at arrest" law. Illinois is collecting DNA from current residents who were convicted of serious sex crimes in other states. California's related case is still awaiting a decision from the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

Internationally, use of forensic DNA continues to increase. Thailand has brought in the FBI to consult on developing a national DNA database. Uzbekistan has announced plans to create one too, which "will be required of those convicted of or currently serving a sentence for grave crimes" but is also described as "voluntary," which might be ominous; under consideration is a law "on genetic registration."

Previously on Biopolitical Times: