HUNTSVILLE, Ala.(WHNT)-Earlier this week the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a ruling that allows law enforcement officers to take a DNA mouth swab from anyone they arrest. Legal experts say the landmark decision will have a wide-ranging impact, including here in Alabama.
Modern crime-fighting technology versus centuries-old privacy rights. It's the heart of an ongoing legal debate, which now includes mandatory and warrantless mouth swabs for anyone in handcuffs. Local defense attorney Mark McDaniel said the Supreme Court's 5-4 decision is significant on many fronts, with the most notable impact allowing more leeway for police and other law enforcement.
"It's a classical battle between the individual rights advocates and public order advocates," said McDaniel. "It could be a parking ticket, disorderly conduct. If you're arrested for something and you're booked in they can now do the swab and get your DNA...anybody that is now arrested, their DNA goes into a national database, and they will help solve crimes."
Alabama and some other states had already allowed limited mouth swabs for felony arrests. Advocates of the ruling argued that the times and technology growth justify mouth swabs being just as critical for booking as fingerprints or a mug shot. But privacy advocates argue the appearance of increased safety comes at a price, mainly the rights laid out in the Fourth Amendment.
"The four justices that dissented in this opinion said this is a violation of the Fourth Amendment," said McDaniel. "The Fourth Amendment says a person has a right to be secure in their house, in their property, and you cannot search them without a search warrant based on probable cause...just because a person is arrested for something, it doesn't mean they should me in a national DNA database."