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Supreme Court rules police can take DNA samples from suspects

The U.S. Constitution protects Louisiana residents from unreasonable searches by the police, but courts continue to argue over what is and what isn't "unreasonable." In a recent decision that could have profound implications for criminal defense, the U.S. Supreme Court recently ruled that police can take a DNA sample of people arrested on suspicion of major crimes.

The ruling came in a case in which a man was arrested on suspicion of assault. Police took a sample of the man's DNA, which connected him to evidence obtained in a past rape that had gone unsolved.

Four of the court's nine justices argued that it would be unreasonable to allow police to search suspects for evidence of alleged crimes other than the one for which they were being arrested. However, a majority of justices ruled that taking a DNA sample (achieved through a swab of the inside of the person's cheek) when someone is arrested for a serious crime is like taking the suspect's fingerprints or photographing them.

The ruling could mean that many people arrested on suspicion of a crime will be subjected to DNA testing. Their DNA could then be run against a databank which could possibly connect them to other alleged crimes.

The police are prohibited from unreasonable searches and seizures under the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution. It is a cornerstone of many criminal defense strategies to show that the police exceeded their authority in searching the defendant's possessions, and that therefore the search was unreasonable. If the defendant can prove that the search was unreasonable, the evidence can be excluded from court.

The consequences that come with a criminal conviction can be severe, and can last long after any jail time served. For Louisiana residents accused of crimes, it is crucial to understand the charges against them and to quickly find the right criminal defense strategy and begin the hard work of defense.

Source: Los Angeles Times, "Supreme Court allows police to take DNA from criminal suspects," David G. Savage, June 3, 2013