The legal landscape just changed with regard to obtaining a warrant to collect DNA from criminal offenders.
The U.S. Supreme Court has delivered a decision that has enormous ramifications for criminal offenders and criminal defense attorneys. The Court handed down a ruling that says law enforcement officers may gather DNA samples without getting a warrant first and such a process does not violate the 4th Amendment (protection against unreasonable searches and seizures).
While the Court indicates gathering DNA is a minor intrusion, there are others that suggest it will exponentially increase police powers – powers that may well be open to abuse.
As it now stands, anyone arrested in Florida for a serious crime is expected to comply with the police, allowing them to collect a mouth swab. Criminal defense attorneys view this as one more insult to the tenet that everyone suspected of a crime and/or arrested is presumed innocent until proven guilty – another infringement of rights.
The hole one could drive a truck through is that DNA collected is often used to close other crimes. For instance, consider a criminal arrested for an assault charge who is then linked with an unrelated burglary because of a DNA sample. It is important to remember that just because someone’s DNA may be present at a crime scene does not mean that it is that individual who committed the offense in question. There are many reasons why someone’s DNA may be present.
Anytime the courts change a basic principle that links to an individual’s rights, there is the potential for abuse. It is not unusual for law enforcement to violate someone’s rights in the name of justice. That should never be the case.
Collection of DNA without a warrant is an invasion of privacy and is wrong on so many levels. What about the question of the 5th Amendment, a person’s right to remain silent? Does having to provide a DNA swab without the benefit of a warrant not violate a person’s right to remain silent? It forces alleged offenders into a situation where they are incriminating themselves without proper recourse to a defense attorney.
The ruling opens a can of worms that will likely be revisited. Interestingly, even the Supreme Court was clearly divided on the ruling, by a vote of five to four. Despite the police suggesting DNA is also used to prove people innocent, there is a fine line being crossed. No one knows what will come about as a result of it.
Thomas C .Grajek is a criminal defense lawyer in Tampa, Lakeland, and Polk County Florida. To contact a Lakeland criminal defense lawyer or to learn more, visit http://www.flcrimedefense.com/ or call 863-688-4606.