On Friday, an announcement was made by the Supreme Court that it is going to determine the legality of police officers being able to obtain DNA samples from suspects they arrest. The ruling could have implications across the country on privacy versus public safety, according to the Washington Post.
The Supreme Court justices will be reviewing a decision by a Maryland court that banned the warrantless collection of DNA from suspects who have yet to be convicted of a crime. This procedure is used across the country by officers in the hopes of cracking cases. The federal government and 27 states have laws in effect that permit collecting DNA from those arrested who have yet to be convicted of a crime.
In 2009, the state of Maryland started to collect DNA samples from suspects arrested for violent crimes. One of those arrested was Alonzo King Jr. and officers discovered that his DNA matched that of a rapist from 2003 in Salisbury, Maryland. King was sentenced to life in prison after being found guilty of the 2003 crime.
King decided to challenge his conviction by claiming that officers who collected his DNA prior to being convicted of a crime was a violation of his Fourth Amendment rights against unreasonable search and seizures. The top court in Maryland agreed with King, saying that “King’s expectation of privacy is greater than the state’s purported interest in using his DNA to identify him for purposes of his 10 April 2009 arrest on the assault charges.”
The ruling was recently blocked by Chief Justice John Roberts and has permitted officers to continue acquiring DNA samples pending the review of the Supreme Court. To date, federal appeals courts have sided on the behalf of police officers, who claim that the DNA samples help add to a database that aides law enforcement officials.
Other rulings include one handed down in February by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco. The court ruled that law enforcement officials in California can continue to acquire DNA samples from those arrested for felonies. The court said that this practice can continue because privacy issues are outweighed by the interest officers have in solving cold cases, exonerating wrongly accused and identifying suspects.
Another ruling came from the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia back in the month of July. The court overturned a ruling from a judge in a lower court who said that the practice is an unconstitutional invasion of privacy when collecting DNA from suspects who have yet to be convicted.
The Supreme Court is scheduled to argue the case early in 2013.