The United States Supreme Court decided to hear an important case regarding defendants’ constitutional rights to privacy. The case involved a man who was arrested for assault but, through DNA collected before he was convicted of the crime, was charged with an earlier rape.
At trial, the man’s criminal defense lawyer attempted to suppress the DNA evidence, claiming that it violated the Fourth Amendment.
The Fourth Amendment states, “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause….” This right has been the subject of many court cases. Courts have held that there are situations where a defendant’s right to privacy is outweighed by legitimate public interest.
For example, the Supreme Court has held that DNA tests on individuals convicted of a crime are reasonable, since they have fewer privacy rights. The Court has not yet determined whether the same can be said of those simply arrested for, and not convicted of, a crime.
In the current before the court, the Maryland Court of Appeals, that state’s highest court, ruled that the DNA collection was unconstitutional because it violated the defendant’s Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable search and seizure.
According to the Court, DNA collection gives prosecutors access to a “vast genetic treasure map,” including information about a defendant’s propensity for violence. It is different from fingerprinting, which simply identifies a defendant.
If the U.S. Supreme Court agrees with the Maryland Court of Appeals, it will put a stop to something that has become common practice in both state and federal prosecutors’ offices. Many states have created databases of DNA samples collected from both arrestees and individuals convicted of a crime. They run DNA tests from rape and other crimes against the DNA samples in the database, a practice that many find to be a step toward a Big Brother nation.
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