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Supreme Court: OK to secure DNA samples from arrestees

On Behalf of | Jun 6, 2013 | Uncategorized

Earlier this week, the Supreme Court of the United States handed down a very important decision in Maryland v. King, a case examining the legality of those laws calling for DNA samples to be collected via cheek swab from those arrested for “serious” offenses.

The case in question concerned the unsolved rape and robbery of a 53-year-old woman in the state of Maryland back in 2003 and the forensic evidence taken from the scene at that time.

Specifically, law enforcement officials arrested Alonzo King on assault charges in 2009 and took a DNA sample pursuant to state law, which dictates that DNA samples must be taken from anyone arrested for crimes of violence. Here, King’s sample came back as a match for the unsolved 2003 rape/robbery and he was subsequently charged with these crimes.

At trial, King’s attorneys unsuccessfully attempted to have the DNA evidence thrown out on the grounds that his Fourth Amendment rights had been violated. He was subsequently sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

The Maryland Court of Appeals overturned the conviction, however, stating that it was unconstitutional for law enforcement to secure King’s DNA sample without a warrant and that he had a “sufficiently weighty and reasonable expectation of privacy against warrantless, suspicionless searches [under the Fourth Amendment].”

The state of Maryland appealed to the Supreme Court of the United States, which decided in a 5-4 decision that Maryland’s DNA arrest law was constitutional and reinstated King’s conviction.

While an in-depth examination of the court’s decision is clearly beyond the scope of a single blog post, experts agree that it ultimately hinged upon a finding of reasonableness.

”Taking and analyzing a cheek swab of the arrestee DNA is, like fingerprinting and photographing, a legitimate police booking procedure that is reasonable under the Fourth Amendment,” wrote Justice Anthony Kennedy for the majority, which included Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, Stephen Breyer, and Chief Justice John Roberts.

However, the dissenters — Justices Antonin Scalia, Elena Kagan, Sonia Sotomayor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg — indicated that allowing DNA samples to be taken upon arrest instead of just after conviction (something all 50 states and the federal government currently do) marked a significant expansion of police powers.

Specifically, they were concerned over the possibility that states would continue to expand the class of arrestees from which DNA samples could be taken, and that more false arrests and wrongful convictions could potentially result.

“Because of today’s decision, your DNA can be taken and entered into a national database if you are ever arrested, rightly or wrongly, and for whatever reason,” wrote Scalia. ”This will solve some extra crimes, to be sure. But so would taking your DNA when you fly on an airplane — surely the TSA must know the ‘identity’ of the flying public.”

What are your thoughts on this decision?

Source: The Boston Globe, “Police can collect DNA from arrestees, court says,” Jesse Holland, June 3, 2013