Supreme Court may review warrantless DNA collection by police

On behalf of Jack B. Rubin, PA posted in Criminal Appeals on Monday, August 13, 2012.

A Maryland man who was convicted of a sex crime based on a DNA sample collected without a warrant may see his case reviewed by the United States Supreme Court. Chief Justice John Roberts says there are enough issues raised by a Maryland Court of Appeals ruling on the DNA evidence, made back in April, to merit an examination by the nation’s highest court.

At issue is a Maryland law called the DNA Collection Act that allows law enforcement officials to take DNA samples from people who are arrested, but not yet convicted, for a variety of alleged offenses, including burglary or attempted burglary, and any violent criminal acts. In 2009, the Maryland man was arrested on assault charges. A sample of his DNA was taken by police without a search warrant and was used to prosecute him for an unrelated, unsolved sexual assault that occurred in 2003. After trial, the man was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. The matter of the conviction was then taken to an appellate court.

The man’s attorney (not affiliated with this firm) successfully argued that the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution, which protects citizens from illegal searches and seizures, was violated by the DNA Collection Act. The Maryland Court of Appeals agreed, saying the suspect’s expectation of privacy outweighed the state’s interests in prosecuting the alleged crime.

Chief Justice Roberts says other courts have ruled inconsistently in similar cases, so he put the Maryland Court of Appeals ruling on hold until the Supreme Court decides if it will review the case. That means prosecutors can still collect evidence without a warrant, but whether or not that evidence can be used to prosecute suspects will ultimately be decided by the high court. The man’s attorney says he believes that the Supreme Court “will vindicate the Fourth Amendment rights” of his client, and that all Marylanders have a right to their “genetic privacy.”

Source: Reuters, “Supreme Court May Review Case Over DNA Samples,” by Jonathan Stempel and Terry Baynes, July 30, 2012

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