Nightly News   |  June 03, 2013

DNA samples allowed in arrests for serious crimes

On Monday the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in a 5-4 decision that police could take a DNA sample from people who are arrested, greatly expanding the ability of the government to gather DNA. Justice Antonin Scalia offered a blistering dissent, joined by three of the court liberals. NBC’s Pete Williams reports.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> good evening. one of the justices of the supreme court said the case they decided today was the most important of its kind in decades. what the court did today will drastically change the power we give our police officers . but those who are against what happened today warn us all we just gave away another right. this case is about dna . the court said today police can now take a sample of your dna when they arrest you for what's deemed to be a serious crime. dna has shown it has the power to convict the guilty and free the innocent. that will now be put to the test in police station lockups all over this country. our justice correspondent pete williams was there for today's ruling. pete, good evening.

>> brian, good evening. today's ruling says taking an arrested person's dna is just like getting fingerprints or taking a picture to compare to crime scene video. the only difference, the court says, is that dna is more accurate. today's ruling said the nation's police can take a dna sample by swabbing the cheek of anyone arrested for a serious or violent crime which can then be checked against a national database of dna taken from scenes of unsolved crimes. in a 5-4 decision anthony kennedy joined by most of the conservatives and liberal steven breyer said dna is a legitimate search to discover whether a suspect has a violent past and should not be released on bail.

>> they can match the dna to a cold case and see if the rapist that committed that case years in the past is the same person sitting before them that day.

>> reporter: in a blistering dissent, scalia joined by three liberals said the supreme court is breaking ground allowing a search without a warrant to see if a suspect has committed some other crime, too. summarizing aloud he said, solving crime is a noble objective but less important than protecting people from suspicionness searches. your dna can be taken if you are ever arrested, rightly or wrongly, for whatever reason. he said he doubted that the founding fathers , "would have been so eager to open their mouths for royal inspection."

>> we are headed to a world of much more dna testing for arrestees. it will probably be as common as fingerprinting has been for years now.

>> reporter: barry schick has used dna to free people wrongly convicted said the court is wrong to allow taking dna without a search warrant .

>> this case is not about dna databases good or bad. this is about the warrant requirement and the protections that a neutral detached magistrate gives to the privacy of citizens.

>> reporter: the court said today dna can be taken only from people arrested for serious crimes. the dissenters said it could become broader and could eventually cover nearly one-third of americans arrested for any crime by age 23. brian?

>> a big ruling today in washington. pete williams at the court to start the us off tonight. pete, thanks.