United States Supreme Court Issues Controversial Ruling In Maryland DNA Testing Case

Last month, this blog discussed the United States Supreme Court’s consideration of the case of Maryland v. King, in which the Court was called upon to determine the constitutionality of the Maryland DNA Collection Act (“Act”), which allows state and local law enforcement authorities to collect DNA samples from individuals who have been arrested for certain crime such as offenses of violence. 1010760_dna_1[1].jpg

The Court heard oral arguments back in February and, on June 3, in a 5-4 vote, rendered an opinion reversing the Maryland Court of Appeals in King v. State (Md. 2012), 42 A.3d 549, 425 Md. 55, holding that the Act, as applied to King, was unconstitutional.

A brief summary of the facts is necessary to understand the Supreme Court’s decision, but a more detailed account can be read here. In King, the defendant, Alonzo Jay King, Jr. was arrested on first and second degree assault charge. Maryland police obtained a sample of King’s DNA and logged it into Maryland’s DNA database, pursuant to the Act.

King’s DNA sample was matched to that from an unsolved rape case and King was charged for that crime. The trial court denied a motion to suppress the DNA evidence, King was convicted of rape and, on appeal, the Maryland Court of Appeals reversed.

In declaring the Act was, in fact, constitutional, thereby reversing the Court of Appeals, Justice Kennedy, delivered the Court’s majority opinion. Kennedy opined that, similar to fingerprinting or photo lineups, DNA sampling is merely a method by which police can identify a suspect, arguing that taking a DNA swab is a “legitimate police booking procedure that is reasonable under the fourth amendment.”

In a scathing dissent, Justice Scalia lambasted the majority’s decision, stating, “Make no mistake about it: 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. This will solve some extra crimes, to be sure. But so would taking your DNA when you fly on an airplane…so would taking your children’s DNA when they start public school.”

Opponents of DNA sampling have also weighed in against the majority’s opinion. According to Steven R. Shapiro, legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union, the court’s ruling creates “a gaping new exception to the Fourth Amendment.” Shapiro contended that the Court’s opinion essentially eliminated an important Fourth Amendment safeguard that police have individualized suspicion to justify a search, such as DNA swabbing.

The Supreme Court’s decision in this case will have a significant consequences for individual arrested for crimes in states which have procedures similar to those of Maryland’s Act. Currently, twenty-eight states and the federal government utilize procedures for obtaining DNA swabs following arrests.

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