Maryland v. King, 569 U.S. _____ (2013)

Maryland police arrested Alonzo Jay King, Jr., in 2009 for first- and second-degree assault.  King was processed through a Wicomico County, Maryland, facility, where personnel used a cheek swab to take a DNA sample pursuant to the Maryland DNA Collection Act, which authorizes officers to collect DNA samples from persons charged with violent crimes.  When the DNA data was added to the state’s database, it matched a prior set of DNA data collected in a separate, unsolved 2003 rape case.  King unsuccessfully moved to suppress the DNA match; and using the 2009 DNA match as evidence, a Maryland trial court convicted King of the 2003 rape.  The state’s highest court reversed King’s conviction, finding that the DNA evidence was improperly obtained during an unreasonable search.  The court deemed the search unreasonable and thus unconstitutional under the Fourth Amendment because King’s expectation of privacy was greater than Maryland’s interest in using his DNA to identify him.  Yet, the court upheld the constitutionality of the DNA Act overall.  


In an 5-4 opinion by Justice Kennedy joined by Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Alito, Thomas and Breyer, the Supreme Court reversed.  The majority reasoned that taking and analyzing a cheek swab of the arrestee’s DNA is, like fingerprinting and photographing, a legitimate police booking procedure that is reasonable under the Fourth Amendment when officers make an arrest supported by probable cause to hold and bring the suspect to the station to be detained in custody, for a serious offense.  The majority further explained that DNA testing involves minimal intrusion that may significantly improve both the criminal justice system and police investigative practices.  It is quick and painless and requires no intrusion beneath the skin.  When probable cause exists to remove an individual from the normal channels of society and hold him in legal custody, DNA identification plays a critical role in serving interests in properly identifying who has been arrested, ensuring that the custody of an arrestee does not create inordinate risks for staff, for the existing detainee population, and for a new detainee, and in ensuring that persons accused of crimes are available for trials.  Identifying an arrestee as the perpetrator of some heinous crime may have the salutary effect of freeing a person wrongfully imprisoned.  The majority also noted that the test does not reveal an arrestee’s genetic traits and is unlikely to reveal any private medical information.


But the four dissenting justices, Justice Scalia joined with Justices Ginsburg, Sotomayor and Kagan, said that the court was allowing a major change in police powers.  "Make no mistake about it: Because of today's decision, your DNA can be taken and entered into a national database if you are ever arrested, rightly or wrongly, and for whatever reason," Justice Scalia said in a sharp dissent which he read aloud in the courtroom. "This will solve some extra crimes, to be sure.  But so would taking your DNA when you fly on an airplane -- surely the TSA must know the 'identity' of the flying public.  For that matter, so would taking your children's DNA when they start public school."  Scalia further questioned the majority’s assertion that DNA helps police identify suspects:  "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.”


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