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DNA: The New Fingerprint

Charged with a crime? Imagine being pulled over by police and arrested for a DUI, a traffic offense, or any other criminal offense....in addition to being photographed and fingerprinted, you may soon be required to provide police with a DNA sample as well. Sound absurd? Consider potential future ramifications of todays US Supreme Court decision and whether this absurdity will soon be a reality across the United States.

The slowly eroding Constitutional protections citizens in the United States receive under the Fourth Amendment took another blow earlier today when additional personal rights and liberties of United States citizens were weakened by a 5-4 decision announced today by the United States Supreme Court. The majority opinion was authored by Justice Anthony M. Kennedy.

The decision was rendered by the highest US Court after a Maryland man was charged with assault, and Maryland police took a DNA sample off his cheek at the time of his arrest and subsequently matched it to a crime from six years earlier leading to his conviction. The conviction was then overturned by Maryland's highest Court after a determination that it was an unreasonable seizure without probable cause. A majority of the United States Supreme Court Justices disagreed with the decision of Maryland's highest appellate court Justices as reflected in todays opinion.

The closely divided United States Supreme Court ruled that police can take DNA samples of individuals who are arrested for "serious" crimes, although not yet convicted. The Court left open the definition of what a "serious" crime would be. The majority of the Supreme Court Justices analyzed the taking of DNA samples to modern day fingerprinting and noted that DNA sampling "involves a very minimal intrusion on personal privacy". The majority also commented that the sample could assist a Judge in making a decision regarding a suspect's bail.

Justice Scalia, who wrote a dissenting opinion, voiced his displeasure with the opinion of the majority stating, "the court has cast aside a bedrock rule of our Fourth Amendment law; that the government may not search its citizens for evidence of crime unless there is a reasonable cause to believe that such evidence will be found". Justice Scalia further voiced his concern with the ruling of fellow Justices as noted in a few statements throughout his dissenting opinion including; "make no mistake about it, because of todays decision, your DNA can be taken and entered into a national database if you are ever arrested, rightly or wrongly, and for whatever reason." Scalia also stated; "todays judgment will, to be sure, have the beneficial effect of solving more crimes, then again, so would the taking of DNA samples from anyone who flies on an airplane." "I doubt that the proud men who wrote the charter of our liberty would have been so eager to open their mouths for royal inspection."

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