Tuesday, June 4, 2013

The Genetic Panopticon

Supreme Court Says Police Can Take DNA Samples Without Probable Cause:

The police may take DNA samples from people arrested in connection with serious crimes, the Supreme Court ruled on Monday in a 5-to-4 decision.

The federal government and 28 states authorize the practice, and law enforcement officials say it is a valuable tool for investigating unsolved crimes. But the court said the testing was justified by a different reason: to identify the suspect in custody.

“When officers make an arrest supported by probable cause to hold for a serious offense and they bring the suspect to the station to be detained in custody,” Justice Anthony M. Kennedy wrote for the majority, “taking and analyzing a cheek swab of the arrestee’s DNA is, like fingerprinting and photographing, a legitimate police booking procedure that is reasonable under the Fourth Amendment.” 

Justice Antonin Scalia summarized his dissent from the bench, a rare move signaling deep disagreement. He accused the majority of an unsuccessful sleight of hand, one that “taxes the credulity of the credulous.” The point of DNA testing as it is actually practiced, he said, is to solve cold cases, not to identify the suspect in custody. 

But the Fourth Amendment forbids searches without reasonable suspicion to gather evidence about an unrelated crime, he said, a point the majority did not dispute. “Make no mistake about it: because of today’s decision, your DNA can be taken and entered into a national database if you are ever arrested, rightly or wrongly, and for whatever reason,” Justice Scalia said from the bench.
We'll be talking about affirmative action and same-sex marriage decisions soon and no one will remember this case, but it's probably the most significant criminal procedure case they've issued in years. The ludicrous and absurd proposition that DNA swabs will help "identify" suspects already in custody is taken to task by the dissent and dissected as having no relevance to mugshots, physical measurements or fingerprints.

From Scalia's dissent:
So, to review: DNA testing does not even begin until after arraignment and bail decisions are already made. The samples sit in storage for months, and take weeks to test. When they are tested, they are checked against the Unsolved Crimes Collection-rather than the Convict and Arrestee Collection, which could be used to identify them. The Act forbids the Court's purpose (identification), but prescribes as its purpose what our suspicionless-search cases forbid ("official investigation into a crime"). Against all of that, it is safe to say that if the Court's identification theory is not wrong, there is no such thing as error.

The Court asserts that the taking of fingerprints was "constitutional for generations prior to the introduction" of the FBI's rapid computer-matching system. Ante, at 22. This bold statement is bereft of citation to authority because there is none for it. The "great expansion in fingerprinting came before the modern era of Fourth Amendment jurisprudence," and so we were never asked to decide the legitimacy of the practice. United States v. Kincade, 379 F. 3d 813 , 874 (CA9 2004) (Kozinski, J., dissenting). As fingerprint databases expanded from convicted criminals, to arrestees, to civil servants, to immigrants, to everyone with a driver's license, Americans simply "became accustomed to having our fingerprints on file in some government database." Ibid. But it is wrong to suggest that this was uncontroversial at the time, or that this Court blessed universal fingerprinting for "generations" before it was possible to use it effectively for identification. 
In other words, for DNA swabs to match, you already have to know who the suspect is. The circular reasoning of the majority is astonishing.

Also, you gotta love Scalia name-checking Jeremy Bentham as well:
I will therefore assume that the Court means that the DNA search at issue here was useful to "identify" King in the normal sense of that word-in the sense that would identify the author of Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation as Jeremy Bentham. 
Solving cold cases is one thing, but creating a DNA database of the innocent, of those arrested rightly or wrongly, ushers in "brave new world" that is almost hard to fathom. And the notion that it's only ever going to be used for "serious offenses" also laughable. Today violent crime, tomorrow we swab when you receive a traffic ticket (after all, we have to "identify" you somehow, right?).
The Court disguises the vast (and scary) scope of its holding by promising a limitation it cannot deliver. The Court repeatedly says that DNA testing, and entry into a national DNA registry, will not befall thee and me, dear reader, but only those arrested for "serious offense[s]." Ante, at 28; see also ante, at 1, 9, 14, 17, 22, 23, 24 (repeatedly limiting the analysis to "serious offenses"). I cannot imagine what principle could possibly justify this limitation, and the Court does not attempt to suggest any. If one believes that DNA will "identify" someone arrested for assault, he must believe that it will "identify" someone arrested for a traffic offense. This Court does not base its judgments on senseless distinctions. At the end of the day, logic will out. When there comes before us the taking of DNA from an arrestee for a traffic violation, the Court will predictably (and quite rightly) say, "We can find no significant difference between this case and King." Make no mistake about it: As an entirely predictable consequence [*29] of today's decision, your DNA can be taken and entered into a national DNA database if you are ever arrested, rightly or wrongly, and for whatever reason.

The most regrettable aspect of the suspicionless search that occurred here is that it proved to be quite unnecessary. All parties concede that it would have been entirely permissible, as far as the Fourth Amendment is concerned, for Maryland to take a sample of King's DNA as a consequence of his conviction for second-degree assault. So the ironic result of the Court's error is this: The only arrestees to whom the outcome here will ever make a difference are those who have been acquitted of the crime of arrest (so that their DNA could not have been taken upon conviction). In other words, this Act manages to burden uniquely the sole group for whom the Fourth Amendment 's protections ought to be most jealously guarded: people who are innocent of the State's accusations. 

Today's judgment will, to be sure, have the beneficial effect of solving more crimes; then again, so would the taking of DNA samples from anyone who flies on an airplane (surely the Transportation Security Administration needs to know the "identity" of the flying public), applies for a driver's license, or attends a public school. 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.
Even the footnotes are barn-burners:
1. The Court's insistence (ante, at 25) that our special-needs cases "do not have a direct bearing on the issues presented in this case" is perplexing. Why spill so much ink on the special need of identification if a special need is not required? Why not just come out and say that any suspicionless search of an arrestee is allowed if it will be useful to solve crimes? The Court does not say that because most Members of the Court do not believe it. So whatever the Court's major premise-the opinion does not really contain what you would call a rule of decision- the minor premise is "this search was used to identify King." The incorrectness of that minor premise will therefore suffice to demonstrate the error in the Court's result. 

2. By the way, this procedure has nothing to do with exonerating the wrongfully convicted, as the Court soothingly promises. See ante, at 17. The FBI CODIS database includes DNA from unsolved crimes. I know of no indication (and the Court cites none) that it also includes DNA from all-or even any-crimes whose perpetrators have already been convicted.
What an egregious decision. The genetic panopticon grows, and the brave new world intensifies. We should be marching in the streets today.

The case is Maryland v. King (2013)

Cross Posted to: The Cranky Sociologists 

UPDATE: Hate to say I told you so, but...well, not really. "Police Agencies Are Assembling Records of DNA":
Slowly, and largely under the radar, a growing number of local law enforcement agencies across the country have moved into what had previously been the domain of the F.B.I. and state crime labs — amassing their own DNA databases of potential suspects, some collected with the donors’ knowledge, and some without it.

And that trend — coming at a time of heightened privacy concerns after recent revelations of secret federal surveillance of telephone calls and Internet traffic — is expected only to accelerate after the Supreme Court’s recent decision upholding a Maryland statute allowing the authorities to collect DNA samples from those arrested for serious crimes.

 In some jurisdictions, it is not only suspects whose DNA goes into the database, but occasionally victims, too. “If an officer goes to your house on a burglary, they will swab a door handle and then they will ask, ‘Can we get a sample from the homeowner so we can eliminate them as the source?’ ” Chief Muldoon said. “They say, ‘Sure.’ ”

“That’s so profoundly disturbing — that you would give DNA to the police to clear yourself and then once cleared, the police use it to investigate you for other crimes, and retain it indefinitely,” said Stephen B. Mercer, the chief attorney of the forensics division of the Maryland public defender’s office and one of the lawyers involved in the case that resulted in the recent Supreme Court decision on DNA. “If that doesn’t strike at a core value of privacy, I don’t know what does.”  
Snicker. But remember, if you ain't got nothin' to hide, what do you care?

No comments: