The United States Supreme Court recently signaled that it may review a case involving whether law enforcement may collect DNA samples from people who have been accused, but not convicted of serious crimes.
Chief Justice John Roberts put a hold on a decision in the Maryland Court of Appeals overturning the rape conviction of Alonzo Jay King. King had been sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole after he was arrested for assault in 2009 and police used his DNA to link him to an unsolved rape that occurred in 2003. Police, however, collected his DNA without a warrant and the Maryland appeals court ruled that the privacy interest of those merely arrested for a crime, as opposed to those convicted of a crime, outweighed the state’s interest in gathering data that would enable it to potentially solve crimes.
Chief Justice Robert’s order noted that it was likely the Supreme Court would accept the case, as the decision of the Maryland Court of Appeals (the highest court in Maryland) placed it in conflict with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third and Ninth circuits and the Supreme Court of Virginia.
This split of authority and the importance of this procedure for law enforcement, combined with the constitutional privacy issues implicated in these types of laws make it ripe for Supreme Court review.
The Supreme Court will have many question to deal with, from the intrusiveness of the search (typically a swab from inside the mouth), the privacy interest in the other genetic information disclosed by the DNA sample and to the difference in the privacy interests of the arrested vs. convicted.
DNA potentially represents a double-edged sword for criminal defendants, as the numerous exonerations from those sentenced to life in prison or the death penalty have demonstrated, and a ruling by the Supreme Court will have nationwide implications for anyone subject to DNA collection in a criminal case.