Supreme Court Upholds Maryland’s Routine DNA Sampling

A few months ago, this blog featured a discussion on Maryland v. King, a case that was then only pending before the United States Supreme Court. To refresh readers’ memories: A criminal defendant appealed a rape conviction that occurred only because Maryland police were able to take a cheek swab of his DNA as part of his arrest for an assault. They matched this sample with DNA evidence gathered in a rape from six years before.

The Maryland Court of Appeals overturned the defendant’s conviction on the grounds that these routine cheek swabs violated the Fourth Amendment right against illegal search and seizure. The State appealed the ruling. On June 3, the Supreme Court reinstated the conviction and affirmed the State’s right to gather DNA on a routine basis.

The Supreme Court’s majority opinion, written by Justice Kennedy, compared DNA sampling of the arrested to fingerprinting, which is legal. Justice Kennedy wrote that states could collect DNA from people arrested for “serious offenses.”  The majority opinion also reasoned that Maryland’s law supported the “well established” governmental interest of identifying people in custody as opposed to solving crimes.

Three justices typically regarded as the Court’s liberal justices joined Justice Scalia in the dissent, and Justice Scalia even took the rare step of reading the dissent it from the bench. He warned, “As an entirely predictable consequence of today’s decision, your DNA can be taken and entered into a national DNA database if you are ever arrested, rightly or wrongly, and for whatever reason.” In his view, the majority ruling did not build in limits. While Maryland only allows fingerprinting for people suspected of violent crime or burglary right now, the ruling is so broad it could permit law enforcement to take DNA from someone suspected of a mere traffic violation in the future.

Unlike fingerprinting, DNA reveals much more than just your identity. According to the Supreme Court, the DNA collected in this case gives information only about “junk” DNA regions. Junk regions don’t offer information on predispositions for particular illnesses or anything more than identification. But if, as the majority suggests, DNA is the fingerprinting of the 21st century, this means it is possible your DNA could be required to get a driver’s license, to immigrate, to practice in certain professions or to work for the government. And in the future, it’s not clear that only junk regions would be sampled.

This ruling opens up the door to many more criminal convictions as even small infractions could require a defendant to give up his or her DNA and thereby get implicated in an earlier crime scene. According to the New York Times, nearly 1 in 3 Americans is arrested by age 23 in America. Therefore, routine DNA sampling, adopted in every state, could lead to a gigantic federal database. The Supreme Court majority’s claim that identification and not criminal investigation is the purpose of DNA sampling (which can take days or weeks) strains credulity. Fingerprinting is a much faster way than DNA sampling of determining someone’s identity for purposes of arraigning him or her.

The ruling described above makes it extremely important to retain an experienced Maryland criminal defense attorney  who can marshal all helpful evidence and get harmful evidence suppressed or discredited in order to provide you with the best defense possible. Contact Anthony A. Fatemi and his legal team for a free consultation at 301-519-2801 or via our online form.

More Blogs

Maryland Court Rules Assault May Occur Even Victims Not Present, Maryland Criminal Lawyer Blog, May 10. 2013

Maryland Appellate Court Rules Against Defendant Who Cut a Police Dog, Maryland Criminal Lawyer Blog, May 7, 2013


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