Maryland DNA Holding Could Lead to Convictions Being Overturned

As previously reported on Conduit Street, a recent Maryland Court of Appeals decision holding that the collection of DNA from arrestees who have not been convicted of a crime is unconstitutional has provoked strong reactions.  A June 9 Baltimore Sun article discusses the impact the ruling could have on the 34 cases where the practice has led to a conviction and how law enforcement officials are defending the program.  The article notes that convictions based on the practice could be overturned if the Court of Appeal’s holding stands.  The article explores the legal issues the holding raises in the context of a rape case that would have likely remained unsolved without arrestee DNA testing.

Law enforcement officials are fighting back, defending the DNA sampling program, and noting that it has led to 34 convictions, including two separate rape cases involving Brown. Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler has pledged to seek an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.  …

About half of the states and the federal government allow police to take DNA samples when a suspect is arrested. But when those laws have been subject to legal challenges, federal appeals courts, and lower courts across the country have ruled both for and against the practice.

If the Supreme Court tackles the issue — by no means a certainty — its decision will affect the role genetic technology can play in solving crimes.

Catching a criminal does not give police the right to violate constitutional freedoms, contend the law’s opponents, including Stephen B. Mercer, chief attorney for the forensics division in the Maryland Office of the Public Defender. A person’s DNA contains information not available in a fingerprint, including determining one’s relatives, race and future health problems, he said.  …

On the other side of the argument are those who believe a DNA sample is no different than a fingerprint taken when a suspect is brought into custody. Supporters, such as Scott D. Shellenberger, state’s attorney for Baltimore County, see the practice as an opportunity to put repeat violent offenders behind bars.

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