In a one-sentence order today, the Supreme Court granted a temporary stay, until at least July 25th, which would allow Maryland Police to collect DNA samples from suspects who have been arrested and charged with a violent crime, before they have been convicted. The ruling temporarily stays a 2011 decision by the Maryland Court of Appeals, which held such collections unconstitutional.
Prior to 2009, Maryland Police had only been permitted to collect DNA samples from suspects AFTER they had been convicted. But in 2009, new legislation was passed that allowed the collection of DNA as soon as a suspect was charged with specific crimes, BEFORE they had actually been convicted.
The issue was brought before the Maryland Court of Appeals in 2011, in King v. State. Maryland’s highest court ruled that by taking a suspect’s DNA and comparing it against samples taken from older crime scenes, the Police had violated the suspect’s Fourth Amendment rights against unreasonable search and seizures.
This issue is not limited to Maryland, it is an issue that is being addressed across the nation. In a similar case arising under California law, People v. Buza, the Court of Appeal of California ruled that “that the seizure of [a suspect’s] DNA at a time when he was entitled to the presumption of innocence, and there had been no judicial determination of probable cause to believe he committed the offense for which he was arrested, violated his Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures.”
While courts in at two states, Maryland and California, have determined that pre-conviction DNA collection is unconstitutional, Federal courts have not been as quick to denounce the practice. In Haskell v. Harris, decided in February 2012, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals rejected a challenge to such a law, finding that the warrantless DNA collection was a reasonable search under the Fourth Amendment.
It is unclear how today’s ruling will ultimately affect Maryland Police. Maryland Governor O’Malley called the decision “encouraging” in an article in today’s Baltimore Sun, but he did not state whether he wanted Maryland Police to resume collecting DNA samples immediately.
What is clear is that the constitutionality of pre-conviction DNA collections is being spotlighted across the country. With multiple contradictory rulings at the State and Federal levels, and with today’s ruling, temporary as it is, bringing the issue back to the table, the Supreme Court may choose to hear the issue as a whole in the next few years. Liberty University School of Law professor, Ken Klukowski, stated in the same Baltimore Sun article, “[t]he granting of the stay indicates that it is more likely than it previously was that the Supreme Court would take the case.” With only about 1% of the 8000 cases appealed to the Supreme Court being heard each year, “[the state] went from having very long odds to an uphill climb” to have the case heard in full.
- Roberts: Maryland can resume DNA collection (wbaltv.com)
- Maryland Court of Appeals to the Left of Liberal 9th Circuit (heritage.org)
- King v. Maryland Fourth Amendment Case Headed for U.S. Supreme Court (songylaw.com)
- The Argument Against DNA Tests for Felony Suspects (blogs.lawyers.com)