Areas of Law: Civil Rights, Constitutional Law,Opinion Date: June 3, 2013
After his arrest on first- and second-degree assault charges, King was processed through a Wicomico County, Maryland, facility, where personnel used a cheek swab to take a DNA sample pursuant to the Maryland DNA Collection Act (Act), which authorizes officers to collect DNA samples from persons charged with violent crimes. A sample may not be added to a database before an individual is arraigned, and it must be destroyed if he is not convicted. Only identity information may be added to the database. King’s swab was matched to an unsolved 2003 rape. He unsuccessfully moved to suppress the DNA match. The Maryland Court of Appeals set aside his conviction, finding portions of the Act authorizing DNA collection from felony arrestees unconstitutional. The Supreme Court reversed. Taking and analyzing a cheek swab of the arrestee’s DNA is, like fingerprinting and photographing, a legitimate police booking procedure that is reasonable under the Fourth Amendment when officers make an arrest supported by probable cause to hold and bring the suspect to the station to be detained in custody, for a serious offense. DNA testing involves minimal intrusion that may significantly improve both the criminal justice system and police investigative practices; it is quick and painless and requires no intrusion beneath the skin. When probable cause exists to remove an individual from the normal channels of society and hold him in legal custody, DNA identification plays a critical role in serving interests in properly identifying who has been arrested, ensuring that the custody of an arrestee does not create inordinate risks for staff, for the existing detainee population, and for a new detainee, and in ensuring that persons accused of crimes are available for trials. Identifying an arrestee as the perpetrator of some heinous crime may have the salutary effect of freeing a person wrongfully imprisoned. The Court noted that the test does not reveal an arrestee’s genetic traits and is unlikely to reveal any private medical information.