Getty Images/Alex WongJustice Antonin Scalia at the Northern Virginia Technology Council in 2003.Justice Antonin Scalia often makes off-colour and downright offensive comments, but today he wrote a dissent that makes a persuasive argument against forced DNA collection.
The conservative Scalia joined with three of the court’s liberal justices to oppose the majority decision to let cops take arrested people’s DNA without search warrants.
Scalia acknowledged that taking the DNA of arrested people could help solve more crimes. Cops could also solve more crimes if they collected DNA from anyone who enrolls in public school, flies on an aeroplane, or gets a driver’s licence, he said.
“Perhaps the construction of such a genetic panopticon is wise. But 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,” Scalia wrote.
The case was brought by Alonzo King, whose DNA was taken when he was arrested for allegedly waiving a gun at a bunch of people. Cops tied King’s DNA to a six-year-old unsolved rape, and now he’s serving a life sentence for the sex crime.
In a defeat for King, the Supreme Court ruled police can take people’s DNA if they’re arrested for a “serious offence.” DNA, like fingerprints or mugshots, is a “legitimate booking procedure” that helps police identify suspects, according to the majority opinion written by swing voter Anthony Kennedy.
Scalia says that argument is baloney. DNA testing takes weeks to process, and police almost always get the results long after they’ve confirmed the identity of people they’ve arrested.
“The court’s assertion that DNA is being taken, not to solve crimes, but to identify those in the state’s custody taxes the credulity of the credulous,” he writes.
Scalia concedes that solving crimes is important but takes a stand for privacy, along with liberal justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan.
“Solving unsolved crimes is a noble objective,” Scalia writes, “but it occupies a lower place in the American pantheon of noble objectives than the protection of our people from suspicionless law-enforcement searches.”
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