Friday, April 27, 2012

Fourth Amendment Alert

In Maryland police take DNA from accused suspects--who are not convicted without probable cause--and do not see that as wrong. The article Maryland Law Enforcement Agencies Still Taking DNA Samples, as reported in the Baltimore Sun, details the latest insidious assault upon our Fourth Amendment right to protection from unreasonable searchand seizure.

I have copied the Fourth Amendment here: The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

The court told them to stop--and they haven't. I read an editorial, Court of Appeals vs CSI which thinks the practice is a justified expedient because they are solving other crimes by violating Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable search and seizure. Although the end (convicting perpetrators of crimes) seems to justify the means, it is still a violation of our rights.

The author writes, For starters, the majority opinion conflates the presumption of innocence afforded to a defendant prior to conviction with his expectation of privacy. Judges Mary Ellen Barbera and Alan M. Wilner correctly note in their dissent that arrestees' expectations of privacy are diminished in far more intrusive ways than the collection of DNA by means of a cotton swab rubbed for a few seconds inside their cheeks. They are subject to thorough searches of their bodies and possessions (including strip searches, an intrusion the Supreme Court recently blessed), and are observed in states of undress by police and fellow detainees while in jail.

But collection of DNA is an intrusion and a means to collect evidence without probable cause to be used against people--to convict them. The line between authorized intrusion for safety and security and intrusion with the intent to collect evidence may be a fine one--but it is a line that must be protected.

Sure it means the police have to work harder to develop probable cause--but hey, that is a good thing. The down side is that the erosion of Fourth Amendment protections will become so complete that ultimately our personal freedoms will be just a memory of what past generations used to have.

We must protect our rights and freedoms and be aware of the forces in our society and government which seem to want to protect us from ourselves.

-- Bob Doan, Elkridge, MD
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