America is known as “The Land of the Free,” but with the world’s highest prison population where more than 12-million arrests were made in 2012 alone, the statement’s accuracy is open to question. According to the Wall Street Journal, more than half of American men will be arrested at least once in their lifetime, and a 2011 study reported by TIME suggests that one out of three young adults will be arrested at least once by the time they turn 23.
In an “arrest-first-ask-questions-later” system, innocent citizens routinely find themselves in front of a mug shot camera -- and as the Institute for Justice routinely notes, have their assets seized -- even if charges are never filed. These scenarios create problems that can haunt a person for years, if not a lifetime. It is, for example, extremely difficult (bordering on impossible) in many states to fully clear arrest records even if formal charges were never filed. Compounding the problem is an increasing number of jurisdictions in which DNA samples are gathered (and data-based) from persons who are simply arrested.
It is axiomatic that, no matter how much power government has, it inevitably seeks more. A perfect example are two companion cases argued yesterday before the U.S. Supreme Court, in which the High Court will soon decide whether police officers have the right to search without warrant the cell phones and other personal electronic devices seized from arrested individuals.
Government advocates argue that the same power granted to police officers to search the persons of arrested individuals to protect either the officers’ safety or to prevent evidence from being destroyed, should apply equally to cell phones. However, as privacy activists correctly counter, this opens the door to wholesale abuse of the Fourth Amendment rights of innocent civilians caught in the jaws of a zealous criminal justice system.