Just a couple of weeks ago we wrote on the subject of Michigan’s new DNA laws, in which the state’s Supreme Court has ruled that anyone arrested for a serious crime can be swabbed for DNA samples by law enforcement, even if they are not yet charged with a crime.
But the mere subject of DNA sampling within the context of criminal law created a firestorm of debate and rouses a battle of sharpened opinions across the nation. And why is that? What exactly is it about DNA sampling that people find to be such a divisive subject?
DNA sampling helps to solve crimes which is good
The answer is both very simple, and rather complex, all at the same time. The simplified version can be put in a nutshell as follows: DNA sampling helps to solve crimes which is good vs. DNA sampling is a violation of 4th amendment rights. But, like debates, there is much more going on beneath the surface.
The argument for DNA sampling is based on the theory that criminals tend to be repeat offenders. This is backed up by innumerable studies done over the years, showing that DNA sampling not only solves crimes but also helps to prevent them by taking criminals off the street.
Currently, there are 21 states in the US that have legalized the sampling of DNA from arrestees, many of whom have also collected statistics over the years to reveal whether or not their state has benefited from the law with regard to a reduction in crime. Studies done in Virginia, Maryland, Washington, and a number of other states all show a significant increase in solved crimes using DNA sampling, in particular, sexual assaults.
The argument against it, however, claims that sampling an individual’s DNA when they haven’t been charged with a crime is a violation of their 4th amendment rights. The 4th amendment provides freedom from unreasonable search and seizure. But this alone opens up a whole new can of worms. After all, can it be considered unreasonable if your DNA proves that you are guilty of crimes? Some say yes, some say no.
But another aspect of the argument against DNA sampling is the emerging science of the study of DNA’s genetic markers. In 2008 a constitutional lawyer named Stephen B. Mercer provided testimony in front of a congressional hearing in which he warned against the future use of DNA in behavioral genetics.
His claim was that, in the not too distant future, there was a very real possibility that scientists may use genetic markers to predict all manner of things, from personality traits to mental illnesses and substance abuse tendencies. His concern was a future in which people are labelled for crimes they have not yet committed through the use of DNA.
However, the counter-argument for this is the fact that while genetic markers found in DNA can reveal an individual’s eye and hair color and also disclose any illnesses they may be suffering from, there is no case history or legal precedent for the use of DNA in convicting someone of a crime other than to prove that they were present at the scene of the crime and a participant in a certain action, for example: the presence of an individual’s semen in a rape victim can be used as proof that the individual was the rapist.
What do you think? Are you for or against it, and why? We would be interested in hearing your opinion on the matter.