US Supreme Court Hears Oral Arguments On Controversial Maryland DNA Testing Case

In November of last year, the United States Supreme Court granted certiorari in the case of Maryland v. King, to consider the question presented:”Does the Fourth Amendment allow the States to collect and analyze DNA from people arrested and charged with serious crimes?” In February, the Court heard oral arguments in the case and is expected to render an opinion on the issue later this year.

This case was appealed from a decision of the Maryland Court of Appeals in King v. State (Md. 2012), 42 A.3d 549, 425 Md. 550. In King, the defendant, Alonzo Jay King, Jr. of Wicomico County, Maryland, was arrested on first and second degree assault charges after he aimed a firearm at a group of people.

After being placed under arrest, but prior to being convicted of a crime, Maryland police obtained a sample of King’s DNA and logged it into Maryland’s DNA database under the authority of the Maryland DNA Collection Act (“Act”). The Act authorizes Maryland and local law enforcement authorities to collect DNA samples from individuals who have been arrested for a crime of violence, an attempted crime of violence, burglary, or attempted burglary.

That DNA database matched the sample of King’s DNA to that from an unsolved rape case. However, the DNA sample was the only evidence linking King to the rape. Prior to trial, King moved to suppress the DNA evidence, arguing that it was an unconstitutional search. The trial court denied King’s motion and King was convicted of first-degree rape and sentenced to life in prison. King appealed to the Maryland Court of Special Appeals, but the Maryland Court of Appeals issued a writ of certiorari and decided to hear the case.

The Court of Appeals held that the Act, as applied to King, was unconstitutional and therefore the DNA evidence should have been suppressed by the trial court. The Court opined 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.”

Pending review by the Supreme Court, Chief Justice Roberts stayed the lower court’s opinion, stating, “Collecting DNA from individuals arrested for violent felonies provides a valuable tool for investigating unsolved crimes and thereby helping to remove violent offenders from the general population.”

It is clear that the Supreme Court’s decision in this case will have a substantial impact on how law enforcement authorities, criminal defendants, prosecutors, and defense attorneys handle cases involving DNA evidence. As many states have already adopted DNA collection practices similar to those of Maryland, the Court’s decision will have nationwide implications.

The knowledgeable attorneys of Brassel, Alexander & Rice, LLC have extensive experience defending individuals that have been charged with crimes. If you or someone you know has been charged with a crime in Maryland, contact the attorneys of Brassel, Alexander & Rice, LLC today.