03 June 2013

Law in Plain English: Maryland v. King

This is one in a series of posts designed to describe court decisions in plain English. For more detail and background on the legal issues, see the link to the case below. For similar posts, click here.

Maryland v. King

King was arrested for assault. Pursuant to the Maryland DNA Collection Act, which allows the state to collect DNA from those arrested for a crime of violence (as well as burglary), law enforcement collected King's DNA. Before he was tried on the assault charge (for which he was ultimately convicted), King's DNA was found to match a sample from an unsolved rape case. For this, he was indicted and convicted of rape and sentenced to life in prison. King filed a motion to suppress in the Circuit Court for Wicomico County, which was denied. King then filed a notice of appeal to the Court of Special Appeals, but the Court of Appeals of Maryland (the highest court in Maryland) issued a writ of certiorari (and as a result, the case skipped the Court of Special Appeals, which is the intermediate appellate court in Maryland) and found the procedure unreasonable. The question before the Court was whether the Fourth Amendment allows the states to collect and analyze DNA from people arrested and charged (but not yet convicted) with serious crimes. In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court ruled that when officers make an arrest supported by probable cause for a serious offense and bring the suspect into the station, taking a cheek swab (and analyzing) is, like fingerprinting and photographing, a reasonable police procedure under the Fourth Amendment. As a result, the Maryland Court of Appeals is reversed and the DNA evidence can be used against King.The practical impact of this decision is that police departments will be able to collect and analyze DNA from people who are arrested and charged with serious crimes.
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