High court DNA ruling may have small effect in this area

I am torn by the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling this week to allow police to collect a suspect's DNA without a warrant. It might lead to more cases being solved, but it does seem like a large intrusion into a person's privacy. I am wondering if this is going to change how the Medford Police Department goes about obtaining DNA samples from those in custody. How do they currently get DNA from suspects?

— Brian C., Medford

The controversial ruling by the Supreme Court certainly has many police forces applauding and civil liberties advocates grimacing, Brian.

The ruling allows police to collect DNA from people who have been arrested, but not convicted of serious crimes, according to a story in the New York Times.

Before the ruling, law enforcement officers in several states needed a warrant to collect the DNA, which is taken by a mouth swab. Those in favor of expanding the DNA collection argue that it is no more of an intrusion into privacy as taking a fingerprint.

Civil liberties groups argue that the ruling is an overreach by police and is an affront to the Fourth Amendment, which guards against unreasonable searches and seizures by police.

Medford police Chief Tim George said his department most likely will not see a big change in how investigators go about their business.

"We don't have a problem getting DNA from suspects," George said. "We always seem to get either consent or a warrant to collect DNA."

George said all felons who are sent to prison in Oregon are required to provide DNA samples.

In addition, Medford police will await a follow-up ruling by the Oregon Department of Justice that could set additional guidelines departments must follow in DNA collecting.

"The DOJ might have a different take on the issue than the Supreme Court," George said.

George noted that sometimes state and federal laws seem to contradict each other. He provided the example of state medical marijuana laws. The federal government does not recognize marijuana as legal, no matter what the circumstance. However, the states continue to pass medical marijuana laws. Colorado and Washington recently passed laws allowing the recreational use of marijuana, which flies in the face of federal drug laws.

"We'll see what Oregon has to say about the DNA ruling," George said.

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