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U.S. Supreme Court weighs in on DNA Collection from those Charged with Crimes

On July 30th U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts released an in-chambers opinion in the case Maryland v. King  that suspends the previous Maryland Court of Appeals (the state’s highest court) ruling that had functionally prevented Maryland from collecting DNA samples from those charged with certain offenses. This allows Maryland to resume collection of DNA samples from those charged with certain crimes until the Supreme Court decides whether or not to conduct a formal review.  
 
The Maryland Court of Appeals, the state’s highest court, ruled that collection of a DNA sample from a “mere arrestee is unconstitutional as applied” to this defendant , however they did not find the DNA Act to be unconstitutional on its face because they could not “exclude the possibility that there may be, in some circumstances, a need for the State to obtain a DNA sample to identify an arrestee accurately.” Maryland subsequently suspended DNA collection due to uncertainty over which samples could not be used.
 
The case involves Alonzo Jay King, who was arrested for assault in 2009. Police took his DNA and used it to connect King  to a rape committed in 2003. King was convicted of the rape and sentenced to life without possibility of parole. That conviction was reversed by the appeals court on privacy grounds.
 
According to Roberts’ opinion, the decision in Maryland’s favor is based on:
 
                                  (1)“a reasonable probability” that this Court will grant certiorari,(2) “a fair prospect” that the Court will then reverse the decision below, and (3) “a likelihood that
                                  irreparable harm [will] result from the denial of a stay.”
 
If the Court did not grant the stay, Roberts wrote, “Maryland would be disabled from employing a valuable law enforcement tool for several months—a tool used widely through-out the country and one that has been upheld by two Courts of Appeals and another state high court.”
 
According to the National Institute of Justice, Maryland is one of 11 states that require an arraignment or judicial determination of probable cause prior to the collection of a sample from an arrestee. An additional 17 states collect samples after arrest without requiring this type of finding.  

For more information, contact: Rich Williams at rich.williams@ncsl.org.