Maryland Criminal Case About DNA Will Be Ruled On By Supreme Court

970702_police_lineIn April 2009, Alonzo J. King, Jr. pointed a shotgun at some people. One of them told the police and King admitted his guilt. He was arrested in Wicomico County. Police then swabbed skin cells from inside his cheek. They tested the DNA, even though he admitted his guilt in the case for which he was arrested. They entered the DNA into the Maryland DNS database and the FBI national database CODIS. His DNA was compared to evidence in unsolved crimes and matched a sexual assault case.

Charged with felony assault, he ultimately pled guilty to a misdemeanor for pointing the shotgun at the group. However, because of the DNA testing that occurred when he was only an arrestee, King was later convicted and sentenced to life in prison for the unsolved sexual assault. Later, CNN reported that the Maryland Court of Appeals agreed that suspects have a higher expectation of privacy than a convicted felon. The government took King’s case to Supreme Court and it was heard last month.

Courts do permit the DNA of convicted felons to be collected. Conviction means forfeiting some rights. However, Maryland and more than half of the states allow the police to collect DNA from people who have only been arrested and not convicted. This fishing expedition allows the police to look for evidence of past crimes and keep the DNA on file in case of future crimes.

King’s case challenges all that, arguing that Maryland’s general interest in crime-solving shouldn’t erode privacy rights. Justice Samuel A. Alito, Jr., who considers DNA sampling “the 21st Century fingerprint” has said, “this is the most important criminal procedure case this Court has had in decades.”

Scotusblog has an important discussion on the question of how much state constitutions should allow the government to absorb new technologies like DNA collection. Maryland compares DNA collection to fingerprinting, a standard action taken by police officers when a suspect is arrested.

During oral arguments before the Supreme Court, Maryland’s lawyer, Katherine Winfree, listed for the Court all of the convictions that have been made since 2009 because of DNA sampling.  Justice Scalia said the government’s argument that DNA sampling substantially helps crime-solvers was so broad that police could sample the DNA of someone pulled over for an alleged traffic violation.

The defense argued that the Fourth Amendment is an important check on DNA sampling for the purpose of solving unsolved crimes. Establishing identity is different. While running an arrestee’s fingerprints takes less than a day and can be used to release a suspect immediately, testing DNA takes a couple of days.

Over at Slate, two law professors make some important arguments that depend on a finding that a big DNA database is only helpful if you enter more crime scene samples, rather than samples from every person who is arrested as a suspect. Many jurisdictions don’t even have a crime scene investigator at rapes, assaults or burglaries. These professors also note that taking DNA from people who have been arrested can slow testing in active investigations—which can hurt innocent people, especially those who cannot afford a lawyer—as well as errors in testing.

Criminal cases can range from matters of life and death to minor misdemeanor charges. However, as this post shows, increased governmental powers, even in minor cases, means that the course of your life may depend on hiring a qualified and knowledgeable Maryland criminal law attorney today. Contact lawyer Anthony Fatemi and his legal team for a consultation. They have years of experience in Maryland criminal defense, including charges involving drugs, handguns, domestic violence, DWI, sex offenses, felony, theft, and assault.

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