The Free Press, Mankato, MN

News Ticker


June 7, 2013

DNA ruling can guide state law

Why it matters: There can be a balance between privacy and effective law enforcement -- if we are careful

In a controversial decision, the U.S. Supreme Court rulef 5-4, that police can take DNA samples for people under arrest in hopes to connecting them to other crimes. With some safeguards, this can be an appropriate use of new crime-solving technology.

Previously, law enforcement could take such samples from convicted felons who have limited privacy rights. The case before the High Court was the question of whether people who have only been arrested – not convicted – also must submit to a cheek swab for testing against a nationwide database of DNA involving unsolved crimes.

In the case before the court, a Maryland suspect was arrested on an arms charge and a subsequent DNA match tied him to an unsolved rape six years earlier. The state’s Court of Appeals voided the rape conviction holding such search was a violation of the Fourth Amendment. In such cases, there has to be probable cause before a search can occur.

Prosecutors argued – and the Supreme Court majority agreed – that such sampling is yet another tool to identify an arrestee’s identity just as fingerprinting.

A notable exception came from conservative Justice Antonin Scalia who compared the practice to the colonial British use of blanket searches of the public. “I doubt that the proud men who wrote the charter of our liberties would have been so eager to open their mouths for royal inspection,” he said.

“Make no mistake about it” he wrote, “your DNA can be taken and entered into a national DNA database if you are ever arrested, rightly or wrongly, and for whatever reason.”

Barry Scheck, one of the directors of the Innocence Project, an organization that helps wrongfully convicted people clear their names through DNA analysis, presented a different slant.

“We’re all in favor of DNA databanks, and using them to exonerate the innocent and apprehend the guilty,” he told the Washington Post. But Scheck disagreed with the ruling, saying he worried the court’s reasoning could open the way for large numbers of minor offenders’ DNA profiles to be pointlessly added to databases.

Text Only | Photo Reprints
  • Spear column: Hoffner case tested first and right rules The biggest news stories carry the biggest risk

    April 20, 2014

  • SCC leads the way on work ed The importance of higher education has never been more pronounced than with the changes occurring in our economy, especially in manufacturing. Bloomberg News noted that manufacturing accounts for 80 percent of our exports and for every one high-tech

    April 20, 2014

  • Our View: Y helps kids with skatepark Thumbs up to the YMCA and supporters working quickly to open an interim roller sport park. When fire destroyed Chesley Roller Sports Park in February, the Y made the commitment to rebuild it this summer and fall. But the Y also moved to give skateboa

    April 19, 2014

  • Our View: Make course evaluations public There's been a considerable and legitimate debate over the years about whether students at a public university should have access to teacher and course evaluations. Whenever there is a legitimate debate, it's hard to be in favor of less information a

    April 18, 2014

  • Our View: Drawing the line after Ukraine Why it matters: Tensions are ramping up once more as Russia tries to dictate to Ukraine.

    April 17, 2014

  • Our View: Costs key in health care access While more uninsured got coverage, costs must be controlled to sustain programs

    April 16, 2014

  • Our View: Saving lives trumps booking drug users Changes to the drug laws would save lives of those who overdose

    April 15, 2014

  • Pay attention! Distraction a problem A few years ago safety experts focused heavily on the dangers of people talking on cellphones while driving. Some states passed laws prohibiting the use of hand-held phones in cars as a result. Today much attention is on motorists typing on tiny hand

    April 14, 2014

  • DEBATE MEDICAL MARIJUANA When Minnesota lawmakers return from their spring break, one of the issues they may face is medical marijuana. This has been kicked around too many times. We feel it deserves to be pushed from committee and debated on the floor. The issue has been tr

    April 13, 2014

  • Our View: Cities saved on garbage collection Mankato and North Mankato saved their taxpayers money by bidding on garbage service

    April 12, 2014