Supreme Court Gives Tacit Approval for Government to take Anybody’s DNA

The Supreme Court of the United States on Monday let stand the conviction of a rapist in the Raynor v. State of Maryland case where prosecution rested on DNA swiped from the armrests of an interrogation-room chair. Glenn Raynor’s genetic material was collected and tested without his knowledge or consent after he agreed to an interview at a police station as part of a criminal investigation. The police didn’t have probable cause to arrest Raynor, and he refused to provide a DNA sample. After he left the station, police swabbed the armrest of the chair where he had been sitting to collect his skin cells without his knowledge. The police then extracted a DNA profile from the cells and used it to connect him to the crime.

The dissent on the Maryland Court of Appeals said a probable-cause warrant was needed and painted a grim picture of the future:

The Majority’s approval of such police procedure means, in essence, that a person desiring to keep her DNA profile private, must conduct her public affairs in a hermetically sealed hazmat suit…. The Majority’s holding means that a person can no longer vote, participate in a jury, or obtain a driver’s license, without opening up his genetic material for state collection and codification.

In urging the high court to review the case, the Electronic Frontier Foundation wrote that “allowing police the limitless ability to collect and search genetic material will usher in a future where DNA may be collected from any person at any time, entered into and checked against DNA databases, and used to conduct pervasive surveillance.”

The EFF’s losing argument may be found at https://www.eff.org/press/releases/eff-supreme-court-fourth-amendment-covers-dna-collection.

16 Comments

I have always thought that the only people who raise vociferous objections to the collection of DNA samples must be people with something to hide. If the “secret” involves criminal behavior, then I have no sympathy with the objector whatsoever. Personally, I would be pleased if any State or country introduced compulsory DNA sampling of all new-born babies, and entered the results into national databases. In 30-40 years time, the crime rate would at least halve in the jurisdictions brave enough to enact this policy. Potential criminals would think twice about their DNA-visibility to law enforcers, and everyone else would have nothing to fear … and many more genealogy brick walls could be broken down into the bargain, subject to the permission of each [baby] DNA sample provider waiving their rights to automatic “genealogical” privacy when in adulthood.

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    In the 1980s the Attorney General at the time – the chief law enforcer in the country – famously stated that he didn’t see any need to give people Miranda Rights because if they weren’t already guilty then they would not have been arrested in the first place. After the country stopped laughing at him he ended up being indicted on charges and this statement was brought back up to see what he would now say. I believe he declined to respond.

    The concept that the only people who should be concerned about the police collecting DNA samples from everyone without their consent are the people with something to hide is as naive as that of that Attorney General. By the same logic the only people who should be concerned about locking their doors are people who have something to hide.

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    —> I have always thought that the only people who raise vociferous objections to the collection of DNA samples must be people with something to hide.

    First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
    Because I was not a Socialist.
    Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
    Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
    Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
    Because I was not a Jew.
    Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

    Liked by 1 person

    I say we post a federal agent in your bedroom. Hey, you have nothing to hide. Right?

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    Another paranoid American cousin, I presume – but there are those that never trust democratically elected governments and/or technology all over the world.

    Here’s an informative link: http://www.genewatch.org/sub-539478

    Personally, I don’t agree with the destruction of millions of useful DNA records, but the constitutional Europeans have their democratic say, and I respect the LAW. Regardless, in most parts of Britain, if the police need to solve a serious crime, then they can still apply for a Warrant to have DNA samples taken from specified individuals. The innocent have nothing to fear. The paranoid just lose sleep, I suppose, as the scientifically identified “perp” is locked away from society to let the rest of the world sleep easier.

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I have said similar to Gearoid for years. I can “partly” understand the privacy issue. If we were to follow the privacy etc issue, we should surely not use old fingerprints at all, why should past “caught” criminals be at a disadvantage to other possible perpetratorsors including criminals who have not been caught? The main factor is: are we happy to have more privacy but more crimanlas, rapists, paedophiles etc etc roaming the streets. Not sure I am.

Kenneth, do you really think your statement has the same logic? “By the same logic the only people who should be concerned about locking their doors are people who have something to hide”. Surely people lock their doors because they have something worth stealing or may fear for their safety.

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What is more personal than ones DNA?
This is exactly what I have been afraid would happen and ridiculed for even mentioning.
I wonder what some of the government tyrannts of the past would have done with the knowledge.

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This action has the opportunity to open doors for a police state, and corrupt rule. If dna is allowed to be collected from all newborns, or even adults without their knowledge, it rips away at our constitution which is already being ravaged, and destroys our personal rights and freedoms as Americans AND as human beings. Investigators are paid to investigate legal cases, prosecutors are paid to prosecute, and the penal system paid to bring to justice criminals. Let them do what they are paid to do and not strip our freedoms to do it for them. With our personal information being stolen through hackers at the banks, credit card companies, even stores that we shop at, from highly secure and sophisticated technology, there is no guarantee WHATSOEVER, no matter what the technology is, or who has it, that our dna cannot be taken to be used for illegal uses. What do you want to be falsely accused of?

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Even though I consider myself a liberal, I don’t read this case result the way some above do, and I don’t see it as contrary to existing prior law. This case is not about “taking” someone’s DNA, which would imply a touching of the subject’s body with, for example, a cheek swab. This is nothing like forcing someone to allow having a blood sample taken from their body without consent. The suspect was not under any legal compulsion to be there. He was not arrested and held in custody. He agreed to an interview at a police station. He sat in the police station’s chair. His body shed DNA onto that chair. This is no different than the daily routine collection of blood and DNA samples from items at a crime scene. I would not extrapolate this to an Orwellian collection of DNA from all newborn, etc.

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    To put this decision into perspective, one might like to read summaries of similar cases found at:
    http://www.denverda.org/DNA/Surreptitious_Collection_and_Abandoned_DNA_Cases.htm
    The Raynor decision is not really an earth-shaking decision. It was really just a simple application of the Fourth Amendment, which applies to instances of an unreasonable search and seizure where there is a reasonable expectation of privacy. It simply does not fit that test. Sitting in a chair and leaving sweat et al. behind is really no different from putting down a cigarette butt, a water glass, etc. etc. It is no different from leaving fingerprints, which were once considered as sophisticated and unique as DNA is considered now.

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“… and everyone else would have nothing to fear …” I retract this throwaway line. Seems like most of the so-called Free World lives in a state of perpetual paranoia, fearing the corrupt Police State, tyranny, an Orwellian government, the next holocaust, etc, but just loving a mega-costly law enforcement system which still relies on foolproof identity parades, lie detectors and always trustworthy witnesses et al.
Why does the crime victim’s rights always come at the bottom of the pile? If you wanna collar the right guy, quickly, then use DNA. If you question the science, and don’t trust anyone in authority – then you conversely support increased criminality in society.
P.S. Not every reader of this blog is American.

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Janice Haynes, SFC (USA Retired) March 3, 2015 at 6:39 pm

Some of you people would have flourished in happiness under Hitler. If you are so eager to have the government up in all your personal business, I hear North Korea is lovely this time of year.

Liked by 1 person

So do they clean the chair arms after each person sits there? Doesn’t everyone leave some DNA, and how do you know whose is whose?

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John R. Carpenter March 4, 2015 at 11:34 am

When I remember all the John & Jane Doe bodies, the other unknowns from the past, the missing and exploited children, and the predators who, in increasing numbers, walk among us … I wonder if DNA fingerprinting for all will be required sometime in the future. Whether it is right or wrong now, society may need to decide in the future whether or not it is required.
Like any technology, it can and will be abused by those who wish power over others. Human nature has not changed in the last five thousand years. There will always be those who want power, those that think they are more special or elite that others and those who want something for nothing. If the majority fails to put the restrictions on such people, then the minority rules with much inhumanity to man.

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