Maryland v. King Ruling: The Government Can Now Log Your DNA Without a Warrant


Today the Supreme Court ruled that a search warrant is not needed to collect your DNA.

In a close call of a decision, Court Justices ruled in Maryland v. King that a cheek swab is a "legitimate booking procedure" and therefore allowed under the Constitution. Proponents of this view liken the collection of DNA to the routine procedure of fingerprinting, while critics view this as a breach of the Fourth Amendment, which protects against unreasonable searches.

Persons arrested under probable cause on felony charges can now be subject to DNA swabbing, even if no further action is taken on their arrest.

"The court's assertion that DNA is being taken, not to solve crimes, but to identify those in the state's custody, taxes the credulity of the credulous," Justice Antonin Scalia wrote for the dissenting opinion. "And the court's comparison of Maryland's DNA searches to other techniques such as fingerprinting, can seem apt only to those who know more than today's opinion has chosen to tell them about how those DNA searches actually work."

Scalia further warns, "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."

The database Scalia is referring to is CODIS (Combined DNA Index System). It's not as ominous as it sounds. In fact, it's not a database with your entire genetic code, potentially displaying health related information. It is a database of 13 carefully selected biomarkers deemed to be "junk DNA", meaning they are not linked to genes. Much of the genome contains this "junk" and since it is not functional, it's highly variable between individuals, making it very useful for identification.

Major crimes, such as rape in the King case, are often committed by individuals who have committed other crimes and therefore would likely be in the CODIS database under this new procedure. Having a DNA log of offenders could make the process of identifying suspects much easier. Additionally the cost of investigations could be significantly reduced if a software system, such as CODIS, could narrow down suspects.