This Monday, the Supreme Court ruled that states may collect DNA from people who have been arrested for “serious crimes.” By itself, the case of Maryland v. King is only somewhat concerning if the Court stays true to its word, but, as with many precedents, the Court could build on it. The Court did not define what “serious crimes” are, which leaves open the possibility of nearly any crime being defined as “serious.” After all, our elected leaders thought the crimes were serious enough to make them illegal. In the future, public intoxication might be considered serious.
Incidentally, I do not take a “slippery slope” argument lightly. Sometimes people see a slippery slope where there really is not one. There can be many intermediate points before a supposed inevitable conclusion. What do I mean? Consider a hypothetical city considering raising its speed limit by five miles per hour on a 4 lane thoroughfare. Those in favor of the increase argue that it can be done safely and improve traffic flow. Those against it argue that if they raise the speed limit 5 mph, there is no end to how high it can be raised, and pretty soon people will be driving 65 mph on a city street. Here, the slippery slope argument is fallacious because each time the city raises the speed limit, a new assessment of safety and speed would be in order.
On this particular issue, however, I believe I am on safe ground to wonder if the Court is treading on a slippery slope. The only guidance the Fourth Amendment gives on the issue of search and seizure is that it must not be “unreasonable.” With such flimsy guidance, the Court has walked down the slippery slope before and in essence said, “we took a step along this path before and that was not unreasonable so it is not unreasonable to take one more step.”
The new rule only negatively affects the people who would have been acquitted of their crimes. In Maryland v. King, the defendant Alonzo King was convicted of assault. It was only a matter of time until Maryland took his DNA as a result of his conviction. Now, everyone who is arrested for a serious crime—whatever that is—might have their DNA information permanently on file. Soon, it will be possible to use that information to implicate a family member as well as the arrestee. Since people related biologically share several DNA markers, it is only a matter of time until someone is held on a serious crime, acquitted, and then unknowingly implicates their loved family member. It is a good bet that a judge will find “probable cause” to take DNA samples of everyone who could be guilty.