SCOTUS: Police Do Not Need a Warrant for Dna Sampling of an Arrested Person.


The U.S. Supreme Court held today in Maryland v. King, that police may perform a search in the form of a DNA sample for the purpose of identification from a charged suspect of a serious crime without a warrant.

In the instant case, the defendant was arrested for aggravated assault and taken into custody. Police performed a cheek swab pursuant to the Maryland DNA Collection Act to collect the defendant’s DNA. The defendant’s DNA was uploaded to the Maryland DNA database and was matched to a DNA sample taken from an unsolved 2003 rape case. The defendant was then indicted by a grand jury for rape. The defendant moved to suppress the DNA match on the grounds that Maryland’s DNA collection law violated the Fourth Amendment. The Circuit Court Judge upheld the statue as constitutional. King plead not guilty to the rape charges, but was eventually convicted and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

The federal and state courts reached differing opinions as to whether the Fourth Amendment prohibited the collection and analysis of a DNA sample from the persons arrested, but not yet convicted, on felony charges. The U.S. Supreme Court granted certiorari.

First, the Court established that there was a legitimate government purpose for the need for identification through DNA sampling citing five critical reasons:

(1)     to determine what is already known about the arrestee from the police databases,

(2)     to determine the type of person the arrested person is and his or her past convictions,

(3)     to ensure the arrestee is available at trial,

(4)     to ensure the potentially dangerous arrestee is not released on bail and becomes a danger to the public, and

(5)     to ensure wrongfully convicted person is not in prison for a crime the arrestee committed.

Then the Court identified that DNA sampling to identify an arrested person via a cheek swap is a minimal intrusion similar to fingerprinting a suspect, taking physical measurements of a suspect to identify his or her body shape and type, and employing photos for identification. Thus, the Court determined that the government had a substantial interest in performing DNA swabs for the purpose of identifying the arrested person and that the intrusion to the arrested person was minimal.

The Court also noted that a significant government interest does not alone justify a search and that the government must outweigh the degree to which the search invades an individual’s legitimate expectation of privacy. The Court determined that the search and seizure of the defendant’s DNA sample was reasonable because defendant was arrested and in police custody for a crime for which probable cause was present and thus did not have a great expectation of privacy.

Finally, the Court determined that the Maryland DNA Collection Act did not intrude on the defendant’s privacy in a way that would make his DNA identification unconstitutional. The Court reasoned that the DNA sampling tests determined coding parts of the DNA that did not reveal the genetic traits of the arrestee; the Act provided statutory protections that guarded against further invasions of privacy, and the included provisions prohibiting the use of DNA sampling for purposes other than identification.

Thus, the Court held that an arrestee’s DNA identification is a reasonable search that can be considered part of a routine booking if the arrest was supported by probable cause and was for a serious offense.

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