Today, in a 5-4 decision the United States Supreme Court issued its opinion in Maryland v. King. The ruling allows police to take a DNA sample from a suspect who has been arrested. Summarized, the decision written by Justice Kennedy holds that when the police make an arrest supported by probable cause and take the person to the station for detention the taking of a DNA sample with a buccal swab is a legitimate booking procedure and is not violative of the Fourth Amendment rights of the accused.
In King the Supreme Court articulated as facts the following: In 2003 there was a home invasion in Maryland during which a woman was Raped by the assailant. The victim was unable to identify the attacker and the police investigation was unsuccessful. Through the victim the perpetrator’s DNA was obtained. In 2009 the defendant was arrested for a Violent Crime. As part of the booking procedure, and pursuant to a Maryland DNA collection law, a DNA sample was taken. A national database, CODIS, matched the defendant’s DNA to the sample saved from the 2003 rape. The Maryland law successfully challenged by the defendant and the case found its way up the United States Supreme Court.
Upholding the Maryland DNA collection law and overturning the Maryland Appeals Court decision the majority in King came to the following troubling conclusions: 1) accurate identification of the suspect is well served through this process, 2) this process reduces inordinate detention risks helping to ensure the safety of the facility staff, the detainee and other detainees at the facility, 3) DNA collection reduces the risk of flight and the subversion of the administration of justice, 4) DNA collection helps with a judge’s determination of bail and 5) the law serves to prevent the detention of innocent people being held for crimes that they did not commit.
The dissent in King was nothing less than scathing. It reasoned that identifying King was not an issue in this case. The Maryland statute permitting the DNA collection forbids testing the DNA sample until after the arraignment. The DNA sample was not matched until four months after the arrest. The Maryland statute provided two situations where the DNA could be tested. One to identify human remains and the other to identifying missing persons. Nothing in the statute permitted testing the DNA for any other purpose. Doing so according to the Maryland law constitutes a crime. The dissent went further stating that “law enforcement’s post-arrest use of fingerprints could not be more different from its post-arrest use of DNA”.
There are additional flaws to this decision not discussed in the dissent. Here is just one of them to think about. Through DNA testing it has been discovered that fifty percent of a person’s personality traits are imbedded in his or her genes. Taking DNA samples in accordance with the Maryland law will enable law enforcement to profile people and their families through these DNA test disclosures. It will not be long before prosecutors try to use this information in court in support of their prosecution.