Editor: This “Readers Write” opinion by reader Tom Hunter was submitted as a response to the recent US Supreme Court ruling allowing police to collect DNA evidence from people arrested – but not convicted – of serious crimes.
From USA Today, June 3, 2013
WASHINGTON — A narrowly divided Supreme Court ruled Monday that police can collect DNA from people arrested but not yet convicted of serious crimes, a tool that more than half the states already use to help crack unsolved crimes.
The case, described by Justice Samuel Alito as “the most important criminal procedure case that this court has heard in decades,” represented a classic test between modern crime-fighting technology and centuries-old privacy rights.
By Tom Hunter
The latest decision from the Supreme Court has opened an old wound that I suffered at the hands of the San Diego Police Department and the George Bailey Detention Center. And the question that I never seem to hear asked is: why is it that you are fingerprinted, photographed and (now) DNA swabbed upon being arrested and not upon being convicted?
I think I know the answer. And that answer is that Americans have slowly, over time accepted the premise that if you are arrested, you probably are a bad guy.
What is one of the first questions that the police ask you when they stop you? “Have you ever been arrested?” Not have you ever been convicted of a crime. And, of course, it is a trick question, because they will know damned well if you have been arrested. They have no interest in whether you have been convicted of any crime. (I suspect that their records don’t bother with such details.)
And the police have ways of making your guilt or innocence a moot point. I was arrested with four others. I had given a ride to one of the four to get some pictures of her children from an ex boyfriend. She took things that weren’t hers. Four of us had no knowledge of this. My van was confiscated, I was held for twenty five days, had my face broken by an inmate, and I was released at midnight with a bus token, a torn shirt and flip flops. All five of us were found not guilty. (That’s right – even the one that took the stuff.)
OK, wait, we weren’t found not guilty – the charges were dismissed. My van cost my sister $1400.
So what difference does it make whether you are innocent or guilty? The police have ways of getting their way whether you are innocent or guilty.
The first thing you hear from your public defender is that it will take them some time to work on your case and the first thing they demand is you give up your right to a speedy trial. So, my point is that if you are innocent until proven guilty, you can still be screwed over pretty good either way. And I don’t see why you get DNA tested when arrested and not convicted.
Anna Daniels says
Tom- thank you for taking the time to write this. Can you elaborate a little more about the $1,400 van cost? Was that because you had to pay to get it out of impound?
Tom Hunter says
Yes, it was in impound for 25 days.