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Maryland v. King (2013)

Maryland v. King (2013) No. 12-207

Vote: 5-4

The facts of the case are these: “After his 2009 arrest of first- and second-degree assault charges, King was processed through a Wicomico County, Maryland, facility, where booking personnel used a cheek swab to take a DNA sample pursuant to the Maryland DNA Collection Act. The swab was matched to an unsolved 2003 rape, and King was charged with that crime [as well]. He moved to suppress the DNA match, arguing that the Act violated the Fourth Amendment, but the Circuit Court Judge found the law constitutional. King was convicted of rape. The Maryland Court of Appeals set aside the conviction, finding unconstitutional the portions of the Act authorizing DNA collection from felony arrestees.” The case now goes to the Supreme Court for decision.

The issues in this case are these: 1. Is the Maryland DNA Collection Act an unconstitutional violation of King’s Fourth Amendment Right to Due Process?

The holding in this case was that: 1. No, the taking of DNA material from a suspect after an “arrest supported by probable cause to hold for a serious offense and bring the suspect to the station to be detained in custody, taking and analyzing a check swab of the arrestee’s DNA is, like fingerprinting and photographing, a legitimate police booking procedure…”

The Opinion of the Court, written by Justice Kennedy, in which Roberts, Thomas, Breyer, and Alito, joined, opined that: “The Act authorizes Maryland law enforcement authorities to collect DNA samples from an ‘individual who is charged with … a crime of violence or an attempt to commit a crime of violence; or … burglary or an attempt to commit burglary… Maryland law defines  a crime of violence to include murder, rape, first-degree assault, kidnapping, arson, sexual assault, and a variety of other serious crimes… Once taken, a DNA sample may not be processed or placed in a database before the individual is arraigned (unless the individual consents)… All 50 States require the collection of DNA from felony convicts… 28 States and the Federal Government have adopted laws similar to the Maryland Act authorizing the collection of DNA from some or all arrestees… Although the DNA swab procedure used here presents a question the Court has not yet addressed, the framework for deciding the issue is well established. The Fourth Amendment, binding on the States by the Fourteenth Amendment, provides that ‘the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated.’ It can be agreed that using a buccal swab on the inner tissues of a person’s  check in order to obtain DNA samples is a search. Virtually and ‘intrusion into the human body’… will work an invasion of ‘cherished personal security’ that is subject to constitutional scrutiny’… The Court has applied the Fourth Amendment to police efforts to draw blood… scraping an arrestee’s fingernails to obtain trace evidence… and even to ‘a breathalyzer test, which generally requires the production of alveolar or ‘deep lung’ breath for chemical analysis’… A buccal swab is a far more gentle process than a venipuncture to draw blood… it requires no ‘surgical intrusion beneath the skin’… The fact than an intrusion is negligible is of central relevance to determining reasonableness, although it is still a search as the law defines that term… Even if a warrant is not required, a search is not beyond Fourth Amendment scrutiny; for it must be reasonable in its scope and manner of execution… To say that no warrant is required is merely to acknowledge that rather than employing a per se rule of unreasonableness, we balance the privacy-related and law enforcement-related concerns to determine if the intrusion was reasonable… The legitimate government interest served by the Maryland DNA Collection Act is one that is well established: the need for law enforcement officers in a safe and accurate way to process and identify the persons and possessions they must take into custody. It is beyond dispute that ‘probable cause provides legal justification for arresting a person suspected of a crime, and for a brief period of detention to take the administrative steps incident to arrest’... Upon considerations the Court concludes that DNA identification of arrestees is a reasonable search that can be considered part of a routine booking procedure… DNA is, like fingerprinting and photographing, a legitimate police booking procedure that is reasonable under the Fourth Amendment.

Justice Scalia, with whom Justice Ginsburg, Justice Sotomayor, and Justice Kagan join, dissenting: In their opinion they state: “The Fourth Amendment forbids searching a person for evidence of a crime when there is no basis for believing the person is guilty of the crime or is in possession of incriminating evidence. That prohibition is categorical and without exception; it lies at the very heart of the Fourth Amendment. Whenever this Court has allowed a suspicion-less search, it has insisted upon a justifying motive apart from the investigation of the crime… The Court’s assertion that DNA is being taken, not to solve crimes, but to identify those in the State’s custody, taxes the credulity of the credulous. And the Court’s comparison of Maryland’s DNA searches to other techniques, such as fingerprinting, can seem apt only to those who know no more than today’s opinion has chosen to tell them about how those DNA searches actually work… So while the Court is correct to note… that there are instances in which we have permitted searches without individualized suspicion, ‘in none of these cases … did we indicate approval of a [search] whose primary purpose was to detect evidence of ordinary criminal wrongdoing’… The Court disguises the vast (and scary) scope of its holding by promising a limitation it cannot deliver. The Court repeatedly says that DNA testing, and entry into a national DNA registry, will not befall thee and me, dear reader, but only those arrested for ‘serious offenses’… I cannot imagine what principle could possibly justify this limitation, and the Court does not attempt to suggest any. If one believes that DNA will ‘identify’ someone arrested for assault, he must believe that it will ‘identify’ someone arrested for a traffic offense… At the end of the day, logic will out. When there comes before us the taking of DNA from an arrestee for a traffic violation, the Court will predictably (and quite rightly) say, ‘We can find no significant difference between this case and King.’ Make no mistake about it: As an entirely predictable consequence of today’s decision, your DNA can be taken and entered into a national DNA database if you are ever arrested, rightly or wrongly, and for whatever reason… Today’s judgment will, to be sure, have the beneficial effect of solving more crimes; then again, so would the taking of DNA samples from anyone who flies on an airplane, applies for a driver’s license, or attends a public school…

The significance of this case is that for the first time ever, an agent of government can take a DNA sample from you, before you’re convicted of a crime, before you have had Due Process, before you have has a chance to plead your case… For the first time ever, the intrusion inside of your body without a warrant, just because of your arrest “rightly or wrongly” can have your name placed beside a DNA sample in a national database. The Court has always prohibited the entrance into the body with a warrant to do so, but now have decided that because a cheek swab is ‘virtually painless’ this entrance is okay.

I disagree with the majority opinion in this case whole heartedly, the Court has allowed police to take evidence from a person, when in the event of ‘exigent circumstances’ such as the blood-draw of a person involved in an automobile accident who is believed to be intoxicated, this was because if that blood was not taken quickly the evidence could disappear. The Court has done the same for automobile searches, as the vehicle unlike a home is mobile and can be lost if not obtained at the point of suspicion. This case as Alito indicated is scary… an individual who may have been accidently warranted (a warrant put out on someone, wrongly) may have their DNA taken from their body and entered into a database just upon arrest.

Works Cited: Supreme Court, Opinions: Maryland v. King (2013), http://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/12pdf/12-207_d18e.pdf