Maryland DNA Law Going to U.S. Supreme Court

Special thanks to Gowen Group Law Clerk John Langlois for producing this post. 

lab photo from Flickr

On November 9th, 2012 the United States Supreme Court granted review of the case of Maryland v. King to determine if collecting and analyzing the DNA of people arrested and charged with serious crimes is allowed under the Fourth Amendment. The case will be reviewed next year.

The review is in response to a ruling by the Maryland Court of Appeals. That state court held that collection of DNA samples from arrestees prior to conviction violated the Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable, warrantless searches. Maryland first enacted legislation establishing a DNA database in 1994. Collection of DNA samples was originally limited to individuals convicted of violent crimes or attempts at those crimes. In 2008 the law was expanded to allow collection upon arrest rather than after conviction.

In July the Supreme Court granted a stay of the judgment of Maryland’s Court of Appeals pending disposition of the petition for certiorari.  As a result, the practice of DNA collection in the state has not been suspended and will remain in effect until the Supreme Court’s review occurs next year. Although a decision is not likely until next June, Chief Justice John Roberts has indicated support for the law and suggested that it will be upheld.

In addition to use for identification, DNA can reveal extensive information about family history, psychology, and health. It can even identify the potential for future health problems. Although the collected data is supposed to remain confidential, a significant amount of privacy is conceded when DNA is collected, cataloged and used for identification purposes. Mandatory collection of DNA from those suspected—but not convicted—of committing a crime, bypasses the presumption of innocence citizens are entitled to and robs them of their constitutional right to privacy. Although DNA collection is compared to finger printing, it provides much more in depth information about the individual. Fingerprints allow for identification of an individual, nothing more. DNA theoretically provides every genetic detail about the person and his or her history.

The Maryland DNA law allows law enforcement to take and retain significant personal information in the form of DNA from suspects prior to conviction of any crime. If the Supreme Court upholds the law, expanded use of DNA evidence and profiling appears likely across the country. This violation puts those accused of a crime at a major disadvantage from the moment they are arrested and without regard to whether they are guilty or not.

The Gowen Group represents clients on criminal charges in Virginia, Maryland, and DC and is prepared to challenge improper DNA collection of individuals. If you or someone you know has been charged with a crime, call 202-398-9355 or visit our website now for a free consultation.