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DNA swabs issue makes strange bedfellows page 2

Date published: 6/13/2013


It turned out his DNA matched a sample in the FBI database linking him to the 2003 rape of a Maryland woman in her home. He was convicted of that crime, and that's what he was challenging.

In his melodramatic fashion, Scalia defined Fourth Amendment protections in absolute terms and offered this quotable gem: "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."

Commentators much smarter than I am have pointed out that Scalia's wrong about suspicionless searches being banned: We allow them all the time--at the airport, at sobriety checkpoints, to get into federal buildings, to work in certain industries, etc. They're done not just to find bad actors but to prevent people with bad intentions from carrying them out.

That doesn't make Scalia entirely wrong, though. As he explained, DNA had little to do with properly identifying someone under arrest, because the data can't go into the Maryland system until after an arraignment. King's DNA was useful only for solving a cold case.

But does it make the swab an unreasonable search? Don't we want police catching people who've committed crimes and harmed other people?

On the other hand, what stops police from taking DNA from everyone down to the kid picked up for speeding and keeping it in a computer system for years?

The notion of a "reasonable" search isn't nearly as straightforward as we might wish.

Linda P. Campbell is a columnist and editorial writer for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

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