5 x 8: Why the DNA ruling was a big deal

1) GUILTY UNTIL PROVEN INNOCENT?

The anonymous Minnesota public defender who writes the blog Not for the Monosyllabic has an outstanding post on why yesterday’s Supreme Court decision, allowing the police to seize DNA samples from people who are arrested, is such big deal. It’s not, she says, at all like the laws most states have — including Minnesota — that allow authorities to take DNA samples from people who are convicted.

This ruling, she contends, violates the theory that people are presumed innocent.

So, you think, “Okay, so maybe I get arrested wrongfully, but I didn’t commit any crimes so my DNA wouldn’t be involved in any other crime scenes, so who cares?” Oh how incorrect you are, my friend. We leave DNA all over everything. We’re just shedding DNA in a cloud around us. Skin cells, saliva, hair, mucous, blood, semen, etc., etc., etc. You touch anything and you’re leaving DNA on it. So, let’s say that you decide to donate some items to a local thrift store. This includes a hammer, some old saws, and some other tools that you don’t need anymore. Somewhere along the line, you cut yourself on one of the saw blades. You wiped it up, but didn’t worry too much about it. You also grabbed the hammer to do some work and you were bleeding a little bit still, so you wiped that off too. Except that your blood (and DNA) managed to work its way into the wood grain, even after you wiped it off. These items are now at the local thrift store, for sale. Now, Murderer comes to the thrift store to buy a hammer so he can beat someone to death. He wears gloves when he buys the hammer–your hammer–and when he bludgeons the person. He drops the hammer at the scene. The police collect your hammer (with your DNA in the woodgrain) from the scene. The find the victim’s blood and blood from an unknown person. They don’t know who that person is, but they want to find out because, hey…why would someone’s blood be on this murder weapon if they weren’t involved?

See, this is the kind of writing that legal reporting needs; it needs to wake up the people who think if they didn’t commit a crime, what’s the big deal about cases involving people who do?

The decision yesterday, and the resulting reaction (or lack of same) also raises an old question that never seems to get answered: Why do some constitutional amendments get more defense than others? And why don’t people who defend one so vigorously, not defend them all?

2) NORTH DAKOTA JUSTICE

Whatever an appropriate punishment is for a 19 year old raping a 13 year old, five years probably isn’t it.

In Fargo yesterday, Judge Wickham Corwin gave Jermaine Quincy Jones a five-year sentence, the Fargo Forum reports, for a crime that the state’s sentencing guidelines say should have carried a 20-year term.

He and another man raped the girls at a party, but Judge Corwin says the fact the victims had initially said they were 17 changes things. The judge said the girls hadn’t been acting “childlike.”

“There’s so much wrong here that goes beyond the victim’s age,” the prosecutor, who had asked for a 40-year prison term, said.

The judge, himself, is facing allegations he sexually harassed a court reporter.

3) JESSE VENTURA: EMBARRASSMENT

Former Gov. Jesse Ventura last week said he might run for president and might ask shock jock Howard Stern to be his running mate. Every reasonable person knows that typical Ventura nonsense but local scribes dutifully reported it anyway. We can’t help ourselves.

We should, the Mankato Free Press says. In an editorial today, the paper calls Ventura an embarrassment because now that the Navy SEAL he was suing is dead( he appears to have had his own penchant for exaggeration), the former governor is going after the soldier’s wife.

It’s hard to see how anyone could do more damage to Ventura’s image than he has done to himself. Suing the widow of a dead war hero is another in a long line of uncouth, bizarre and simply weird antics by Ventura.

Ventura unsuccessfully sued the government arguing airport scans and pat-downs amount to unreasonable search and seizure.

He’s spewed nonsense about a broad range of conspiracy theories and lent his political credentials to the discredited 9/11 “Truther) movement that alleged the Sept. 11 terror attacks on New York were either planned or permitted by the United States government.

There is perhaps more evidence and more witnesses detailing the Sept. 11 attacks than virtually any other major historic event.

Ventura’s eccentricities quickly wore thin with Minnesotans during his tumultuous term as governor. Since leaving office he’s done nothing but add to his resume of odd behavior and self aggrandizement.

4) DREAMING TRAINS

I walked down to the magnificent Union Depot in Saint Paul again last week and it was, again, mostly empty. It’s a marvelously restored building that may or may not return as a transportation center. The idea of commuter rail coming from the East isn’t going to happen; Washington County authorities have decided it’s not a good option. Amtrak is going to return to the station sometime this year, the local signs say. But for now, it’s a big, mostly empty building that screams, “something cool happened here…. once upon a time.”

President Obama had big dreams of high-speed passenger service when he first came to office,but — let’s face it — that’s clearly not going to happen given the cost and political weathervanes.

But a person can dream. The Minnesota Historical Society commissioned the film “Arriving/Departing in Central Standard Time,” which will be shown next week at the Depot as part of the Northern Spark Festival in Lowertown.

5) SONGS TO MOVE THE NPR HEADQUARTERS BY

NPR recently moved from its old Washington headquarters to a new building and NPR’s Bob Boilen wanted to figure out a way to mark the big move with his signature Tiny Desk Concert.

According to Boilen:

Bandleader Damian Kulash used to be an engineer at an NPR member station in Chicago, so we figured he’d be up for helping us execute a simple idea: Have OK Go start performing a Tiny Desk Concert at our old location, continue playing the same song while the furniture and shelving is loaded onto a truck, and finish the performance at our new home. In addition to cameos by many of our NPR colleagues — Ari Shapiro, Audie Cornish, David Greene, Guy Raz, Scott Simon, Alix Spiegel, Susan Stamberg and more — this required a few ingredients: Number of video takes: 223 Percent used in final version: 50 Number of raw audio channels: 2,007 Percent used in final version: 50 Number of microphones: 5 Number of hard-boiled eggs consumed: 8, mostly by bassist Tim Nordwind Number of seconds Carl Kasell spent in the elevator with OK Go: 98 Number of times Ari Shapiro played the tubular bells: 15 Number of pounds the tubular bells weighed: 300 Number of times the shelves were taken down and put back up: 6 Number of days it took to shoot: 2 Number of cameras: 1

Bonus I: I wrote last week about the Chicago Sun Times firing its entire photojournalism department. What does a photographer who got fired do now? Start a blog/Tumblr, of course. (h/t: @MNBibes)

Bonus II: Logging your life with wearable technology. (BBC)

Bonus III: Passion 101. A Los Angeles man has such a love of airplanes that over the years he’s turned his house into one. It started with building a 747 cockpit in his garage. It spread to the house and now he’s rented a warehouse for a full Pan Am 747.

Bonus IV: Really, this piece on the bike ride-share program in New York is not satire.

TODAY’S QUESTION
Should the UN take steps to cut Syria off from shipments of new weapons?

WHAT WE’RE DOING

Daily Circuit (9-12 p.m.) – First hour: A new report from the Pew Research Center shows that 40 percent of American households with children under 18 have mothers as their sole or primary wage earner. That’s up from 11 percent in 1960. What’s behind this dramatic shift and how is it changing American society?

Second hour: In April, The Daily Circuit examined the role of patient activation in health care and costs. That discussion led to an unanswered question when it comes to engaging patients, “What do these doctor-patient conversations look like?” The Daily Circuit will further examine the role of the doctor and the patient, as they together, create a care or treatment plan.

Third hour: Sea ice in the Arctic regions is disappearing at unprecedented rates, causing concern for researchers across the globe. Scientists have recently begun to link unusual weather throughout Europe and North America to Arctic sea ice loss. And yet many questions remain. What are the causes and implications of this ice loss?

MPR News Presents (12-1 pm): Republican U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, speaking at the Reagan Presidential Library about libertarian and conservative themes for his possible 2016 presidential campaign. He says the Republican party must change to become a bigger, more inclusive party.

Talk of the Nation (1-2 p.m.) – The future of the FBI.

All Things Considered (3-6:30 p.m.) - In Afghanistan, when U.S. troops pull out, Afghan forces must take over. NPR’s Tom Bowman has been on dozens of patrols throughout the country with both U.S. and Afghan forces. He reports on whether Afghan troops can hold on after the
Americans leave.

After the Sandy Hook school shooting, President Obama called for s “mental health first aid” training for teachers. It’s a program imported from Australia that trains teachers and others to recognize and respond to a mental health crisis, much like first aid and CPR classes train people to respond to a medical emergency. The classes have only been available in Minnesota for a couple years, and have taken off in popularity in recent months in Duluth and elsewhere. MPR’s Dan Kraker will have the story.

  • Ben Chorn

    These are all great- thanks for posting them Bob.

  • KTN

    The probability of this hypothetical happening is not zero, but it is pretty close. I disagree with the decision, but there are of course issues raised in the opinion that are beyond the scope of the title of a blog post.

    Currently, all 50 states already allow DNA samples to be taken from felons. This swab to collect DNA is only done after the arrest, and in the confines of the station house. Presumably, the police can look for other identifying things, like a tattoo, to identify a suspect, why not DNA too.

    Justice Kennedy writes about the narrow interpretation of this decision. Of course it will be up to the judiciary to maintain that narrowness, but at least it is more than merely dicta in the opinion.

  • Kassie

    Union Depot is absolutely beautiful. Amtrak was orginally supposed to be using the station last winter. It seems to be forever delayed. I don’t understand why the 94 and 16 buses aren’t using the station as their terminal along with the 21. They need to find a way to get people in there.

    • MrE85

      The opening of the Green Line, along with Amtrak, should liven things up at the old Depot.

      • Bob Collins

        But the Green Line is on the street north of the Depot. I’m not seeing how that puts people inside the giant terminal itself.

      • http://blogs.mprnews.org/newscut/ Bob Collins

        But the line is outside the depot, north of it. Not sure how that will result in more people inside the depot itself. I suppose I can see them coming inside and taking a quick right to the skyway. But what is it that will get them to go left and down that long, huge — and marvelous — terminal?

        • MrE85

          Hopefully the buses connections and Amtrak can fill that role. That said, the newly renovated station could use a very more food options (the Greek restaurant is fine, but) such as a coffee stand and maybe a fast food stand or two.

  • Chuck

    Bonus IV: Wow, who knew that bikes were the shock troops of the totalitarian state? Beware the little green Nice Ride bikes in downtown Minneapolis–the jackbooted UN occupation troops will soon be pedaling them to City Hall in a bloodless coup.

  • JB

    I wonder if the ad for Chevron before the WSJ bike share program attack video was coincidence or irony. And please stop with the European comparison…maybe New York just wanted to be more like Denver, Minneapolis, Chicago, Washington DC, Miami, Boulder, Madison, or Portland. All of which have established bike share programs.

  • Jack Ungerleider

    #4 – I haven’t been into the Depot since it opened, but hope to visit as an Amtrak passenger once the trains are stopping there. When I came back from NY in early February I noticed that the platform signs were working on the Amtrak Platforms. What was missing is the switches to allow the train to pull into the station. My assumption at the time as that would be done during the warm weather and the station would be ready in time for the fall schedule update.

    For those that scoff about the need for passenger rail service, try and find a flight from St. Cloud to Milwaukee for the weekend.

  • kennedy

    Re#1: Not purposely obtuse, but how is collecting DNA different from collecting fingerprints? I honestly don’t see a difference when it is used for identification. Yes, DNA lasts longer. Also to inform, DNA identification does not scan a persons entire DNA sequence. It checks 6-10 markers, small sequences.

    • PD Girl

      The main problem w/ the Court’s logic on this DNA swab being used for identification is that, according to the facts in the case, the DNA swab was never used for that purpose and wasn’t even processed until after several months had already elapsed.

      This is from Justice Scalia’s dissent:

      “Maryland officials did not even begin the process of testing King’s DNA that day. Or, actually, the next day. Or the day after that. And that was for a simple reason: Maryland law forbids them to do so. A ‘DNA sample collected from an individual charged with a crime . . . may not be tested or placed in the statewide DNA data base system prior to the first scheduled arraignment date.’ Md. Pub. Saf. Code.

      King’s DNA sample was not received by the Maryland State Police’s Forensic Sciences Division until April 23, 2009—two weeks after his arrest. It sat in that office, ripening in a storage area, until the custodians got around to mailing it to a lab for testing on June 25, 2009—two months after it was received, and nearly three since King’s arrest. After it was mailed, the data from the lab tests were not available for several more weeks, until July 13, 2009, which is when the test results were entered into Maryland’s DNA database, together with information identifying the person from whom the sample was taken.

      It was not until August 4, 2009—four months after King’s arrest—that the forwarded sample transmitted (without identifying information) from the Maryland DNA database to the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s national database was matched with a sample taken from the scene of an unrelated crime years earlier.”

      The problem is that this is not being used as identification. It’s being used to gather evidence without having to have particularized suspicion or needing to get a warrant. It would be a different discussion if the actual use was for identification, but it’s clear from the facts of this case that it was not used for that at all. The state just found a way to circumvent the requirement of particularized suspicion in searches.

      • kennedy

        Still not clear to me how this differs from collecting other evidence used to identify a person. Can a person in police custody refuse to be photographed, or refuse fingerprinting? DNA is just another form of personal identification that can be used to determine links between evidence and a specific person.