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Supreme Court decision could lead to warrantless DNA swabs in PA

A recent decision by the U.S. Supreme Court allowing police officers to forcibly swab the cheeks of suspects to collect a DNA sample without a warrant could have a direct impact on the rights of people in Pennsylvania. The state currently does not allow these sorts of sampling of body tissues without a search warrant but the ruling could embolden legislators who are trying to change that.

In a 5-4 vote, the Court ruled on June 3 that a Maryland man's Fourth Amendment rights were not violated when a swab was taken of his cheek after he was arrested. DNA samples are routinely taken from those convicted of a crime to see if there is a match with evidence from other crime scenes, but this case dealt with cases where police wish to forcibly take a DNA sample from someone suspected of a crime.

Traditionally, such bodily invasions required a search warrant under the Fourth Amendment. However, 28 states have passed laws allowing warrantless DNA sampling, creating a controversy that reached the Supreme Court. Prosecutors argued that the swabs are similar to fingerprinting of suspects, but critics said it created a new exception to the warrant requirement and chipped away at citizens' privacy rights. The Court sided with the former, though the four dissenting justices echoed the critics' concerns.

Pennsylvania is not one of the 28 states with a DNA swab exception for police. But a bill in the State Senate would change that. If it passes, people may have to face getting put on a DNA database without a judge evaluating the strength of the arresting officer's suspicions.

Source: Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, "Supreme Court's DNA ruling may embolen state legislatures," Bobby Kerlik, June 4, 2013

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