National DNA Database Comes Under Scrutiny

By Deanne Katz, Esq. on February 27, 2013 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

If you're convicted of a crime, almost every state will take a swab of DNA which is then sent to the National DNA Database. That's a practice the Supreme Court heard arguments about on Tuesday.

The case comes from Maryland, which collects DNA from suspects at the time they're arrested. Proponents of the law say it's an important part of criminal justice.

But civil liberties advocates oppose the practice, saying it increases the possibility of error for people who haven't yet been convicted. So how much of the DNA collection practice is at stake?

The issue before the Supreme Court is about DNA collection at arrest. The complaints about it are related to the criminal justice system.

In general, courts have found that people who were merely arrested have more right to privacy than people who are convicted of a crime.

You've all heard the phrase "innocent until proven guilty" but it's not just a saying; it's an important aspect of the criminal justice system.

That's why prior arrests aren't evidence of guilt at trial. Being arrested just means you're a suspect, not that you did anything wrong.

But your DNA says a lot about you genetically. Civil rights groups are worried that arrestees are being forced to give away some very private information, reports USA Today.

There's also the issue of misused information. While DNA is a very strong piece of evidence it's still subject to contamination, fraud, and misinterpretation. That can lead to years behind bars for someone who is innocent.

Proponents of the practice argue that the information collected from arrestees doesn't include genetic identifiers and that it's destroyed if the suspect isn't convicted.

If he is convicted, a second sample is taken.

That data is then stored at the National DNA Database so that law enforcement officers around the country can access the information.

It will be up to the Court to balance the needs of criminal investigations with individual privacy. But will we stop collecting DNA from convicted criminals? Probably not.

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