The U.S. Supreme Court and Wisconsin’s approach to DNA collection

The U.S. Supreme Court and Wisconsin’s approach to DNA collection

A case currently before the United States Supreme Court (USCS) may ultimately influence whether Gov. Scott Walker’s proposal to obtain DNA from all persons arrested for a felony may be instituted or not. This proposal is being characterized as “DNA-on-Arrest.” If Gov. Walker’s proposal is instituted, every individual in Wisconsin arrested on a felony charge including Internet crimes, violent crimes and various property crimes, would be required to submit a DNA sample to law enforcement.

Supporters of the bill insist that it will better enable law enforcement to do their jobs. Opponents of the bill are deeply concerned that obtaining DNA samples from individuals who have not yet been convicted of any offense constitutes an illegal search and seizure. The Fourth Amendment protects citizens from this kind of violation. In observance of this constitutional limitation, Wisconsin currently only takes DNA samples from persons convicted of certain offenses.

Whether or not taking DNA samples from arrestees is constitutional or not is a question currently being considered by the USCS. The case before the Court involves a Maryland law that allows for DNA sampling upon felony arrest. The outcome in the case will potentially affect similar laws in 24 additional states and will affect states like Wisconsin that are considering implementing similar practices.

The criminal justice system honors the fact that a balance must be struck between personal freedom and public safety. Sometimes personal freedoms must be compromised in the interest of public safety. But obtaining DNA from persons not yet determined to be a definitive threat is an unbalanced and unjust policy. Hopefully the Supreme Court’s holding in the Maryland case will reflect that fact and Wisconsin’s legislators will respond accordingly.

Source:, “Wisconsin DNA expansion law faces hurdle,” Andy Thompson, Feb. 18, 2013