Court of Appeals Holding Could Stop Arrestee DNA Collection By State and Local Governments

Since the passage of the 2008 Maryland DNA Collection Act, it has been a common practice for State and local law enforcement and correctional agencies to take a DNA sample from arrestees charged with a violent crime or felony burglary.  However, an April 24 Maryland Court of Appeals decision in King v. State of Maryland, has held that taking a DNA sample from an arrestee violates the arrestee’s Fourth Amendment right against unreasonable warrantless searches.  The ruling has put law enforcement and correctional agencies in a quandary about whether to continue the practice pending appeal.

As reported by an April 25 Baltimore Sun article, some State and local jurisdictions have decided to continue the practice while the State decides whether to appeal the case.

Several law enforcement agencies, including the state Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, were awaiting a decision on whether the state will appeal before they make changes. Gov. Martin O’Malley, Baltimore’s mayor and a chorus of state and local officials called for an appeal of what they see as a crucial tool that has linked suspects to other, unsolved crimes.

Opponents of the practice said the decision to continue taking samples shows disregard for the Court of Appeals and the laws the police are sworn to uphold.  …

O’Malley was joined by Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, Police Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III and others in pushing Attorney General Douglas Gansler to file a challenge before the U.S. Supreme Court.  …
In Anne Arundel and Baltimore counties, police officials said they would not change their practices until the state police or Gansler’s office told them otherwise; in Howard County and Baltimore City, the samples are collected by the state public safety department, which will continue to do so.

It remained unclear what will happen to the nearly 16,000 samples already collected in a database, although a public defender said suspects whose DNA has been compiled may be able to take court action to get the samples destroyed.  …

The collection of DNA at arrest has been the subject of national debate, because opponents point out that it takes place before a suspect is tried in court. Twenty-six states have laws similar to Maryland’s, and many have been upheld in state and federal court.

An April 25 Baltimore Sun editorial urges the State to appeal to decision.  The editorial notes that the Maryland Court of Appeals has upheld in the past the taking of fingerprints from arrestees and the post-conviction collection of DNA.

The crux of the matter is this: Those charged with crimes have, for decades, been fingerprinted as a matter of routine, and those fingerprints are checked against evidence both in the crime at hand and in unsolved crimes. The use of DNA is more powerful and more technologically advanced, but it is fundamentally the same thing. We hope the Supreme Court will be given the chance to recognize that fact and uphold Mr. King’s conviction — and the law that made it possible.



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