Earlier this year, the Supreme Court reversed a Maryland appellate court on the subject of the Maryland DNA Collection Act. It held that it was constitutional for Maryland to allow law enforcement officers to take a DNA sample from individuals arrested for violent crimes. It explained that DNA identification was similar to fingerprinting or photographing and should be considered a “reasonable search.” Therefore, the DNA collection was considered not to violate the defendant’s Fourth Amendment rights and the defendant’s conviction for rape was upheld.
The case was remanded (returned) to the appellate court to consider questions left unanswered in the original appeal including whether the DNA collection violated the defendant’s rights under Article 26 of the Maryland Declaration of Rights and whether it was improper for the trial judge to shift the burden of proof to the defendant to show the search and seizure was reasonable.
The defendant argued that the Act authorized general searches without requiring the reasonable suspicion that is typically required for a search and seizure. He asked the Maryland appellate court to suppress the evidence on the grounds that this violated Article 26.
Article 26 describes that warrants that don’t include an oath or an affirmation for search and seizure are grievous and oppressive and all warrants to search that do not name the place or person in particular are illegal and shouldn’t be granted.
On this issue, the appellate court explained that Maryland has interpreted this article the same way that the Fourth Amendment is interpreted. The provisions are independent and a violation of one does not necessarily violate the other, but usually Article 26 is not considered to offer a greater protection than the Fourth Amendment does.
The court also explained that even if it departed from its usual pattern, it has never found that suppression of evidence is a remedy for a violation of Article 26. The departures the defendant requested were too great. The appellate court stood by the decision of the Supreme Court.
The defendant’s second argument on the appeal was that the trial judge had erred by assuming the State had followed the requirements for collecting his DNA and improperly shifted the burden of proof to him to prove that it didn’t follow those requirements. The defendant also claimed several statutory violations, including that his sample was not actually taken in April 2009 and that the collector was not authorized to take the sample.
The appellate court explained that the defendant did not present evidence to support his claim of statutory violations. It reasoned that even if there were violations, there was no requirement that this evidence be excluded.
The appellate court also explained the probable cause for the warrant was established by the statement in the warrant that the defendant’s DNA was being collected in accord with the Act. The trial court had considered the defendant’s argument a challenge to the truth of the statement in the warrant.
The defendant argued he hadn’t challenged the truth of the statement, but rather that the initial DNA sample was collected in violation of the Act. Under the Fourth Amendment any evidence that comes from an illegal search or seizure is considered “fruit of the poisonous tree” and the court is required to suppress it.
The appellate court explained that if a defendant wants to scrutinize a warrant, he bears the burden to show it is tainted by intentional falsehoods by a preponderance of evidence. On the other hand, if a defendant wants to challenge “fruit of the poisonous tree” evidence, he must show that the tree was poisonous and that there is a cause and effect relationship between the illegal search and the evidence at issue.
Either way, the defendant bears the initial burden of proof. In this case, the defendant had not shown the State violated the Act. The appellate court also explained that even if the State had violated the Act, suppressing the evidence would not be the right remedy.
If you are arrested or charged with a crime, it is in your best interests to consult a knowledgeable Maryland criminal defense attorney. We can determine what kinds of defenses are available in your particular case and whether any of the evidence can be suppressed. Contact us at 301-519-2801 or via our online form.
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