Surreptitious Sampling

May 4, 2008
By Aneesha Raghunathan, Plainsboro, NJ

Imagine being able to solve crimes just by examining empty Coke bottles, or discarded cigarette butts. Imagine being able to know, without long, extensive investigations, or any shade of doubt, the person who is responsible for a serious crime like a murder or rape. Imagine the relief that this would bring to a victim’s family and the community, knowing that the killer is behind bars. Well, thanks to the advances of modern science, this is possible. Today, the police have the power to take DNA samples from anyone, anytime, and for any reason without court involvement. But despite the fact that this saves lives and delivers justice, people reject it under the pretext of a violation of privacy and of the Constitution’s fourth amendment right.

The shallow argument is that “surreptitious sampling” (NY Times) as it’s so affectionately called, violates the fourth amendment right of relief from unreasonable search and seizure. But what perplexes me is that it’s still perfectly legal for police to go looking through other people’s trash bags, without a warrant.

The main issue here is “insecurity with regard to personal privacy” (NY Times), and that “innocent individuals may end up in a database that they never knew existed”, but if that individual did not commit the crime, then what is there to be worried about?

The important thing is that the positives are well worth dealing with those one-in-a million “what if” cases. Like for example, the case of Altemio Sanchez, who a couple years ago was suspected of strangling and raping several women. One fine day, the guy went out to dinner with his unsuspecting wife, and the police confiscated his glass. When they matched the DNA on the glass to the DNA found at several crime sites, it was beyond doubt that he was guilty. He confessed shortly after and is now serving life sentence.

Just last year another case revolving around this issue came up. Blake Reed, a convicted burglar, was granted a new trial just because a police officer had kicked a cigarette butt off his patio, then had picked it up later. Why should a man, already convicted and guilty of burglary, be granted a new trial, a new chance to escape from the law? Why should he be given any sort of chance at all when he’s already proven guilty? Now, not only is this ludicrous because of the heavy 100 ton burden of proof that lies on the police, but also because there is a greater chance that the criminal will be free to roam the streets.

A recent case, of suspect Ronaldo Gallego, accused for the murder of his aunt, is still being debated by the court. Only they can decide whether the use of surreptitiously gained DNA samples qualify as substantial court evidence. Only they can decide whether or not this case becomes an impetus for the use of DNA to solve crimes, or just another statistic.

The courts need to realize that surreptitious sampling is a beneficial idea, which at first may seem contrary to law and the Constitution, really does establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense and promote the general welfare and the ideals of our nation.

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