DNA collection from felony arrestees





No. 12–207. Argued February 26, 2013—Decided June 3, 2013

After his 2009 arrest on first- and second-degree assault charges, re­spondent King was processed through a Wicomico County, Maryland, facility, where booking personnel used a cheek swab to take a DNAsample pursuant to the Maryland DNA Collection Act (Act). The swab was matched to an unsolved 2003 rape, and King was charged with that crime. He moved to suppress the DNA match, arguing that the Act violated the Fourth Amendment, but the Circuit Court Judgefound the law constitutional. King was convicted of rape. The Mary­land Court of Appeals set aside the conviction, finding unconstitu­tional the portions of the Act authorizing DNA collection from felony arrestees.

Held: When officers make an arrest supported by probable cause to hold for a serious offense and bring the suspect to the station to be de­tained in custody, taking and analyzing a cheek swab of the ar­restee’s DNA is, like fingerprinting and photographing, a legitimatepolice booking procedure that is reasonable under the Fourth Amendment. Pp. 3–28.

(a) DNA testing may “significantly improve both the criminal jus­tice system and police investigative practices,” District Attorney’s Of­fice for Third Judicial Dist. v. Osborne, 557 U. S. 52, 55, by making it“possible to determine whether a biological tissue matches a suspect with near certainty,” id., at 62. Maryland’s Act authorizes law en­forcement authorities to collect DNA samples from, as relevant here, persons charged with violent crimes, including first-degree assault.A sample may not be added to a database before an individual is ar­raigned, and it must be destroyed if, e.g., he is not convicted. Onlyidentity information may be added to the database. Here, the officer collected a DNA sample using the common “buccal swab” procedure, which is quick and painless, requires no “surgical intrusio[n] beneath the skin,” Winston v. Lee, 470 U. S. 753, 760, and poses no threat to the arrestee’s “health or safety,” id., at 763. Respondent’s identifica­tion as the rapist resulted in part through the operation of the Com­bined DNA Index System (CODIS), which connects DNA laboratories at the local, state, and national level, and which standardizes the points of comparison, i.e., loci, used in DNA analysis. Pp. 3–7.

(b) The framework for deciding the issue presented is well estab­lished. Using a buccal swab inside a person’s cheek to obtain a DNA sample is a search under the Fourth Amendment. And the fact that the intrusion is negligible is of central relevance to determining whether the search is reasonable, “the ultimate measure of the con­stitutionality of a governmental search,” Vernonia School Dist. 47J v. Acton, 515 U. S. 646, 652. Because the need for a warrant is greatly diminished here, where the arrestee was already in valid police cus­tody for a serious offense supported by probable cause, the search is analyzed by reference to “reasonableness, not individualized suspi­cion,” Samson v. California, 547 U. S. 843, 855, n. 4, and reasonable­ness is determined by weighing “the promotion of legitimate govern­mental interests” against “the degree to which [the search] intrudes upon an individual’s privacy,” Wyoming v. Houghton, 526 U. S. 295,

300. Pp. 7–10.

(c) In this balance of reasonableness, great weight is given to both the significant government interest at stake in the identification of arrestees and DNA identification’s unmatched potential to serve that interest. Pp. 10–23.

(1) The Act serves a well-established, legitimate government in­terest: the need of law enforcement officers in a safe and accurate way to process and identify persons and possessions taken into cus­tody. “[P]robable cause provides legal justification for arresting a [suspect], and for a brief period of detention to take the administra­tive steps incident to arrest,” Gerstein v. Pugh, 420 U. S. 103, 113– 114; and the “validity of the search of a person incident to a lawful arrest” is settled, United States v. Robinson, 414 U. S. 218, 224. In­dividual suspicion is not necessary. The “routine administrative pro­cedure[s] at a police station house incident to booking and jailing the suspect” have different origins and different constitutional justifica­tions than, say, the search of a place not incident to arrest, Illinois v. Lafayette, 462 U. S. 640, 643, which depends on the “fair probability that contraband or evidence of a crime will be found in a particular place,” Illinois v. Gates, 462 U. S. 213, 238. And when probable cause exists to remove an individual from the normal channels of society and hold him in legal custody, DNA identification plays a critical role in serving those interests. First, the government has an interest in properly identifying “who has been arrested and who is being tried.”
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