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Editorial: State must keep limits on DNA collection

U.S. Supreme Court Justice AntonScalilistens his introductibefore speaking IIT Chicago-Kent College Law Judicial Takings Conference 565 W. Adams St. Tuesday

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia listens to his introduction before speaking at the IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law Judicial Takings Conference, 565 W. Adams St., Tuesday, Oct. 18, 2011, in Chicago. | John J. Kim~Sun-Times

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Updated: July 6, 2013 6:37AM

Big Brother just grew a new muscle.

In a potentially dangerous 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court ruled Monday that police can take DNA samples from anybody arrested in connection with a serious crime.

The person need not be charged with the crime, yet alone convicted — a mere arrest will do. And in a departure from the current law in Illinois and elsewhere, the police do not have to justify taking the DNA sample by showing it is germane to their investigation of the crime.

If the person later is cleared of the crime — or never even charged — his or her DNA profile still could be included in criminal-justice databases.

In the brave new world of DNA technology, civil libertarians warn of a day when the DNA of every newborn American will be entered into a national database, opening the door to abuse not only by government but also by the private sector. Employers and insurers, for example, conceivably could weed out people whose DNA reveals possible physical or mental problems.

In reaching its decision, the court’s majority argued that taking a DNA sample is a “legitimate police booking procedure,” like fingerprinting, done to confirm the identity of the person in custody.

But as Justice Antonin Scalia retorted in dissent, everybody knows the police take DNA samples in such situations to solve cold cases, not to identify people in custody.

“Make no mistake about it,” Scalia wrote. “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.”

In Illinois, police are allowed to take DNA samples only from persons picked up for specific serious crimes, only for purposes of investigating that crime, and only if a court or grand jury agrees there is “probable cause” to believe the person arrested committed the crime.

Those safeguards were put in place, in part, to keep police from arresting people wholesale just to gather DNA.

Monday’s court ruling allows police to collect DNA samples more freely, but does not mandate it. State legislatures can continue to bar the practice — and they should.

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