For new citizen DNA database, what counts as a 'serious' crime?

Technically, DNA databases aren't new. Right now, 26 states including Alabama have DNA databases, and federal agencies have had them for years. Last year, the Obama Administration passed the Katie Sepich Enhanced DNA Collection Act, which gives states grants to build genetic databases or participate in a nationwide version.

What's new about the national DNA database is that it will include the genetic profiles of potentially hundreds of thousands of people who have never been convicted of any crime. That's because the U.S. Supreme Court just ruled that it's constitutional for law enforcement to collect the genetic profiles of anyone arrested for any "serious crime" -- even if the arrest was the result of racial profiling, police misconduct, a mistake or another constitutional violation.

Criminal defense and civil rights activists were stunned to learn that merely being arrested is enough to overcome any objections a U.S. citizen may have to their genetic code being included in a program meant to match them with unsolved crimes.

The case, Maryland v. King, was decided by a 5-4 majority. Justice Antonin Scalia wrote a furious dissent, joined by Justices Ginsburg, Kagan and Sotomayor. Scalia pointed out, among a number of other extremely serious issues, that the majority had left the phrase "serious crime" utterly undefined, opening it to major law enforcement abuse -- and potentially opening the floodgates of criminal defense litigation as people try to prove they shouldn't be included because the crimes for which they were arrested weren't "serious."

Furthermore, he wrote, it makes no logical difference. The majority attempted to weigh the alleged importance of having a colossal database of citizens' genetic profiles against the burden on the citizen, and came down on the side of "Big Brother" from George Orwell's "1984." After all, if the goal is to match the DNA of people who are not suspected of any crime with genetic material collected in unsolved cases, wouldn't it be best if everyone were entered into the database?

"If you believe that a DNA search will identify someone arrested for bank robbery, you must believe that it will identify someone arrested for running a red light," he wrote. That doesn't make the DNA collection reasonable.

"The proud men who wrote the charter of our liberties would not have been so eager to open their mouths for royal inspection," he concluded.

Source: USA TODAY, "Supreme Court OKs DNA swab of people under arrest," Richard Wolf, June 3, 2013

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