On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the case of Maryland v. King, and began deliberation of the question presented, “Does the Fourth Amendment allow States to collect and analyze DNA from people arrested and charged with serious crimes?”
The Maryland Court of Appeals originally considered this case in King v. State. In King, the defendant, a man from Wicomico County, Maryland, was arrested in 2009 for pointing a shotgun at a group of people. The defendant eventually pled guilty to a misdemeanor, however, prior to entering his plea and while in custody, police swabbed the inside of the defendant’s cheek in order to obtain a DNA sample for Maryland’s criminal DNA database. At the time police took his DNA, the defendant had not yet been convicted of the crime for which he was arrested.
By entering his DNA sample into state and federal databases, police matched the defendant’s DNA to that obtained from a 2003 unsolved rape case that occurred in Salisbury, Maryland. The defendant ultimately pled not guilty to the rape charges on an agreed statement of facts in order to preserve his right to appeal certain constitutional issues he had raised at the trial level. The defendant was convicted and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
The Court of Appeals held that the Maryland DNA Collection Act, as applied to the defendant as an arrestee, was unconstitutional, and therefore the DNA evidence used against the defendant at trial should have been suppressed. The Court concluded that arrestees have a “sufficiently weighty and reasonable expectation of privacy against warrantless, suspicionless searches that is not outweighed by the State’s purported interest in assuring proper identification as to the crimes for which they are charged at the time.”
Supreme Court Analysis
The Supreme Court’s decision in this case will have significant implications for criminal defendants and law enforcement with regard to current DNA practices across the nation. Many states, including Maryland, have adopted DNA collection practices that involve obtaining samples from arrestees who have not yet been convicted of a crime.
There are a myriad of ethical, legal, moral, and practical reasons weighing against the collection of DNA samples from arrestees prior to their conviction. As a practical matter, collecting more DNA samples costs more money and slows searches through DNA databases that have more samples. Further, as DNA contains some of the most intimate personal information about individuals, its collection implicates various privacy concerns. Finally, the law generally requires law enforcement to have some justification for the collection of bodily fluids from an individual; however, it would appear that some of the DNA collections laws attempt to skirt these requirements.
The criminal defense attorneys of Brassel, Alexander & Rice, LLC have extensive experience defending the Constitutional rights of individuals that have been charged with a crime. If you or someone you know has been charged with a crime in Maryland, contact our team today.