Can police collect DNA before conviction? Supreme Court to hear case.
Many states allow police to collect DNA samples from people who have been arrested. But others see that as a violation of the Fourth Amendment. Now, the Supreme Court will step in.
The US Supreme Court on Friday agreed to take up a case examining whether the Fourth Amendment permits police to collect and analyze a person’s DNA at the time of arrest or whether they have to wait until after the suspect has been convicted to take a DNA sample.Skip to next paragraph
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The case raises the thorny issue of when the government is allowed to collect a DNA sample from an individual and store it in a national database.
DNA information has become a major crime-fighting tool, providing a significantly more accurate method of identifying individuals than the subjective art of fingerprint comparisons. DNA data have helped police solve crimes and have also helped defense lawyers identify and correct wrongful convictions.
But unlike fingerprints, DNA material can reveal far more about an individual, including details that most people consider highly personal and private.
Nonetheless, law enforcement officials insist that they are interested in using DNA technology only for identification, as a kind of enhanced form of fingerprinting.
The issue arises in the case of Alonzo King, who was arrested in southern Maryland in 2009 on an assault charge.
As part of his processing by police, officers used a swab to collect a sample of his saliva from his cheek. The sample yielded an identifying DNA profile which was fed into a national database.
Mr. King’s DNA profile was found to match the DNA profile of the person who robbed and raped a woman in the same area of southern Maryland in 2003.
Armed with that information, authorities applied for a search warrant and obtained a second swab of King’s cheek. The second sample also matched the DNA evidence from the 2003 rape. King was charged with the rape and robbery.
Prior to the trial, his lawyer moved to invalidate the use of the DNA evidence because it allegedly violated King’s Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures. The judge denied the motion. King was convicted of first-degree rape and sentenced to life in prison.
His lawyer appealed and the Maryland Court of Appeals reversed the conviction. In a 5-to-2 vote, the court said that the initial collection of King’s DNA at the time of his arrest violated his Fourth Amendment rights.
The Maryland court said that even though King was in police custody following his arrest, he nonetheless had an “expectation of privacy to be free from warrantless searches of his biological material and all of the information contained within that material.”
Prosecutors defended the taking of a DNA sample at the time of arrest as similar to taking a suspect’s fingerprints and feeding the prints into a national database. If the prints linked the suspect to another crime, police would be entitled to use that information as evidence against the suspect.