DNA Searches for Criminal Suspects Revealed

A New York court has allowed police to resume DNA searches that can identify relatives of people who leave genetic material at a crime scene. The ruling reverses a lower court decision that blocked the searches.


When law enforcement has probable cause, they don’t need a warrant to search a suspect or their surroundings. This article covers searches incident to arrest, searches during detention and searches during booking.

Searches Incident to Arrest

The search incident to arrest exception allows police officers to search an arrestee and the area immediately surrounding him or her without a warrant. This power is based on two historical justifications: officer safety and the need to preserve evidence.

EFF is concerned that this exception is being misused. For example, many people carry digital devices that contain large amounts of personal information like emails texts photos contact lists and more. When police indiscriminately rummage through these devices without a warrant they can’t justify the intrusion under this exception. We are working to help courts understand that this power should be applied more sparingly in the future.

Some courts have also applied this exception to searches conducted after a person has been placed under arrest. This is problematic because it allows police to search a place where they have no reason to believe that the suspect may still be hiding evidence of a crime. This is why it is important to consult with a criminal attorney, who can help you understand your rights and options according to your state’s laws.

In some cases, an officer might suggest that a person under arrest return home to handle personal matters before going to jail. If the person agrees, then the officer can accompany them into their home and conduct a search under this exception. If the person refuses, then the search would be illegal.

Searches During Arrest

When police have probable cause to believe that a suspect has committed a crime, they can stop them and search them for weapons. This is known as a stop and frisk. The scope of the search is limited to the area within an arms length of the suspect. However, there are exceptions to this rule such as when the suspect is in hot pursuit or a danger to officers or the public. Officers may also conduct a full-body search when they arrest a suspect. The search can include a strip search that removes all clothing to ensure that there are no weapons or drugs in the suspect’s possession.

Once the suspect is arrested, they can be placed in a holding cell to await trial or to post bail. During the booking process, personnel will run the suspect through the records to see if they have any outstanding warrants. They will also ask about gang affiliations and other suspicious activities.

During this time, the suspect can make phone calls to family members. The suspect can also request a lawyer, which should be done as soon as possible to allow the lawyer to file for bail. The suspect can also invoke their right to remain silent and refuse to answer questions. However, it is important to remember that any statements made voluntarily can be used against them in court.

Searches During Detention

Once law enforcement determines that there is sufficient probable cause to detain a suspect, they can perform certain searches. For example, officers can conduct a limited “pat-down” search for weapons if they have reasonable suspicion that the individual is armed and dangerous. The scope of the search should be limited to the outer clothing, and the officers must not go into pockets or purses without cause.

Police may also conduct protective sweeps of homes or apartments without a warrant. This is an administrative type of search that aims to ensure officer safety by ensuring that there are no other people hiding in the vicinity.

While some courts have upheld these types of searches, other courts have rejected them as unconstitutional. The Supreme Court has ruled that the scope of a protective sweep must be reasonable and that officers cannot simply walk up to someone’s front door and order them to remain there while they search the residence.

After a person is detained, they are usually subjected to a strip search by the police, either at a police station or while being transferred between jails. This search is designed to locate contraband, such as drugs and weapons. However, it is often unnecessary and can be harmful for children or people with sensitive body areas. Many schools and juvenile detention centers use less invasive methods to conduct these searches, and inmates at prisons can turn over their own clothing and belongings before they are searched, allowing them to keep some items of value.

Searches During Booking

The first stop on the list of searches a criminal suspect might face is at police station or jail, during the process called “booking.” While exact procedures vary between jurisdictions, most include taking fingerprints, photographing the suspect for what are referred to as “mug shots,” and recording personal information. The detective may also search databases to see if the person has any outstanding warrants.

During the search, officers will typically ask the suspect to relinquish their clothing and belongings; the items will be returned when they are released from jail. The suspect will be strip searched before being given a jail uniform and will undergo a visual or physical body cavity search, depending on the circumstances. The search is a necessary intrusion to protect the safety of other prisoners and staff, who might be threatened by contraband hidden within a prisoner’s clothing or a body cavity.

The Court in Bell ruled that the security needs of an arrestee returning to general population from contact visits justifies strip and visual body cavity searches, but that the needs are not as great to justify a full physical body cavity search that requires a suspect to manipulate their body for a full inspection. It’s important to remember that even a strip search is considered an invasion of privacy, and that it would be unwise for police to have a blanket policy requiring all suspects to be stripped when they enter jail.