Maryland defends DNA collection law in Supreme Court case


A DNA sample from a man arrested for assault linked him to an unsolved rape, and now the state of Maryland is arguing before the Supreme Court that it was constitutional to collect the sample.

Maryland's Court of Appeals ruled otherwise last year. It considered the cheek swab of Alonzo King, after he was arrested and charged with assault, to be an unreasonable search, considering he hadn't been convicted of the assault. That swab led to King's conviction in the unsolved 2003 rape.

The sample was mandated under state law. In 2008, lawmakers began to require the collection of DNA samples from anyone arrested for violent crimes. Law enforcement can't analyze the sample until the suspect appears in court, and if the judge finds a lack of probable cause for the charge, the sample must be destroyed.

A brief (.pdf) that the state of Maryland filed Feb. 19 notes that the law also restricts law enforcement's use of DNA samples for identification purposes and forbids it from probing for other genetic information. Arrestees already undergo other intrusions on their privacy, such as a strip search prior to entering a jail, the brief also says.

King's objection to the cheek swab was about the genetic information recovered, not the swab itself, but Maryland says that concern is unfounded. "What is at issue in this case is not a search of King's 'genes,' but rather a search for his identity," the state's brief says.

"A person who is arrested for a violent crime has no right to withhold his identity from the police," it says. "Whether that identifying information is a photograph, series of whorls and ridges on a fingerprint, or the string of numbers resulting from a DNA profile, the collection of that information as a part of routine booking procedures is reasonable."

But the defendant, in an earlier brief (.pdf), said the state "offered no reason to believe that DNA analysis would have been useful in linking [King] to the assault for which he was arrested."

The Maryland Court of Appeals had previously allowed the DNA collection law when it applied only to convicted felons. It ruled in King's favor because he was presumed innocent of the assault he was arrested for.

But the state of Maryland argues, "The presumption of innocence is a trial right that does nothing to change the restrictive conditions of pretrial custody that diminish an arrestee's expectation of privacy."

For more:
- download Maryland's Feb. 19 brief in Maryland v. King (.pdf)
- download King's Jan. 25 brief (.pdf)
- see more documents from the case on SCOTUSblog

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