The use of DNA evidence has helped convict criminals in the United States and other parts of the world. Law enforcement agencies, such as forensic services, have used DNA to prosecute criminals successfully. Regardless of the increase in the use of DNA, it remains a controversial issue because of the potential violation of privacy protected by the Fourth Amendment. Henning (2008) and Strutin (2014) wrote articles discussing the controversy. Although DNA provides critical evidence for use in court, criminal justice actors should use it within legal confines, including its use under probable cause and warrant.
Summary of Article 1
In the article “Compulsory DNA Collection: A Fourth Amendment Analysis,” the author focuses on the constitutionality of compulsory DNA collection. Henning (2008) correctly notes that the collection, storage, and analysis of DNA in the criminal justice system has increased over the years, enhancing the debate related to the legality of the process versus potential violation of the Fourth Amendment. On the one side of the argument is the claim by many state and federal courts that compulsory DNA collection is not a violation of the Fourth Amendment, while on the other side, is the claims by litigants and civil rights activists that DNA collection is a significant intrusion of a person’s privacy. Besides, different courts have reached different conclusions regarding pre-conviction DNA collection. In United States v. Pool and United States v. Mitchell, the state and federal courts used the “general balancing” or “general reasonableness” test to determine the constitutionality of DNA collection. The two courts made divergent conclusions.
The diverse conclusions made by the two courts set the stage for future disagreements regarding the collection and use of DNA in court cases. The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California, in United States v. Pool, concluded that the interest of the government in DNA collection from an individual facing criminal charges was more important than privacy intrusion. The U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania, in United States v. Mitchell, reached an opposing judgment. Henning (2008) observes that such disagreements are most likely to emerge in the future concerning pre-conviction DNA collection. The author presents two points of disagreement. Firstly, the question is whether the status of the defendant as an individual with criminal charges is considered as having an impact on Fourth Amendment protection. Secondly, the aspect is whether the level of the government considered as having a genuine interest in the collection of DNA samples instead of other identifiers, such as fingerprinting. Courts also disagree regarding the extent to which DNA collection amounts to privacy intrusion. Although Henning (2008) does not represent a clear side in the debate, the article reveals that the debate regarding compulsory DNA collection will become more complicated in the future.
Summary of Article 2
In the article, “DNA without Warrant: Decoding Privacy, Probable Cause, and Personhood,” the issues of DNA collection, probable cause, and warrant emerge. Strutin (2014) observed that although an arrest does not amount to a medical procedure and probable cause does not mean consent, they become so courtesy of genetic sampling. The American constitution views people as sources of information, but with rights. Besides, the collection and confiscation of a person’s DNA in a national database is a search. The collection of DNA from individuals remains an important constitutional issue concerning potential violation of privacy through searches protected in the Fourth Amendment. Strutin (2014) suggests that the right to privacy has become problematic. The rights on the people and on the machines are conflicting because of the perceptions of privacy, probable cause, and personhood held by the Supreme Court. The author concludes that the American Constitution has failed to keep up with the current developments, which is the reason for the controversy surrounding DNA collection and use in the court.
The Fourth Amendment protects the right to privacy. The constitution clearly states that “a right manifests the “people” against “unreasonable searches and seizures” of their “persons” (body), “houses” (personal space), “papers” (memories, thoughts and transactions), and “effects” (things)” (p. 231). Although the right to privacy is clearly stated in the Fourth Amendment, the Bill of Rights, and the Civil War Amendments, the issue of DNA collection and use still trigger some controversy. The use of DNA involves the collection of vast information from a person. It is another source of controversy related to the collection of vital evidence, which can lead to prosecution versus the need to protect the individual from violations of privacy through an intrusive collection of genetic information. Besides, the court has removed a layer of privacy in law in Maryland v. King. Given the opportunity for the court to interpret the law and set precedence, the use of genetic investigation has become commonplace regardless of the potential to violate privacy.
Both articles present the argument relating to whether DNA collection should be legally used in court cases, or they should be subjected to the need to protect privacy. Although both authors present a reliable inquiry of the argument, Strutin (2014) presents a more in-depth analysis compared to Henning (2008). Strutin (2014) supports the need to revisit the legal interpretation of privacy in as much as DNA collection and use is involved. I agree with the author’s argument that the court has opened up the way for investigators and other players in the criminal justice system to conduct the unchecked collection, analysis, and storage of genetic information in a manner that amounts to privacy violations. The author further suggests that the development of the technology used to collect and analyze the DNA might have more significant implications on privacy violations than was assumed by criminal justice actors. The development only means that DNA collection will violate the right to privacy at a higher level in the future. The collection methods will become more intrusive and the amount of information collected and stored will become vast than it is the case today.
My argument in the analysis is that although DNA information presents essential information, which could be used in the court of law, especially in criminal cases, it should be checked or controlled. I agree with Strutin (2014) regarding the implications of probable cause and warrant in the collection of evidence. Therefore, the same standards should be used in the DNA collection and use in criminal justice. DNA evidence, just like other sources of evidence, such as fingerprints are essential in criminal cases. However, its importance should not be used as the basis for the violation of the Fourth Amendment privacy protection condition. The articles also reveal that the courts and law enforcement agencies have not yet reviewed the constitutionality of collecting and storing DNA profiles after the sentence. Law enforcers have massive databases with DNA information, some from cases that were concluded since the DNA information began to be used. The reality also informs the need for a more in-depth analysis of the constitutionality of the collection and storage of DNA.
The discussion regarding privacy violations in the attempt to collect vital evidence to convict criminals remains serious to-date. It is also possible that the challenge will continue in the future as technologies become more intrusive. Henning (2008) and Strutin (2014) present their arguments regarding the hot debate surrounding the importance of DNA evidence versus violation of privacy protections under the Fourth Amendment. Hence, considering the importance of DNA evidence in convicting crime, especially felonies, all stakeholders in the criminal justice system should explore the issue to ensure that DNA collection, analysis, and storage occur within legal confines.
Henning, A. C. (2008). Compulsory DNA collection: A Fourth Amendment analysis. Washington, D.C.: Congressional Research Service, Library of Congress.
Strutin, K. (2014). DNA without warrant: Decoding privacy, probable cause and personhood. Rich. JL & Pub. Int., 18, 319.