Professors Weigh in on Maryland v. King Supreme Court Decision
Web Editor - Published: June 6, 2013
SupremeCourt“In Maryland v. King, the Supreme Court further chiseled away at the strength of the warrant requirement and the Fourth Amendment rights of crime suspects. Decades of judicial precedent stand for the idea that the mere potential for finding evidence of crime is not, by itself, a justification for the infringement on the individual rights of citizens, including those charged with crimes,” says Professor Judith L. Ritter, the Director of Widener Law’s Pennsylvania Criminal Defense Law Clinic.

“Under the law, even minor personal intrusions require a warrant or a case-specific justification for a warrantless intrusion. The King ruling rolls back these valued protections,” adds Ritter.

The Supreme Court’s decision in the case came down on Monday, June 3rd and upheld the state’s right to secure a DNA sample from anyone arrested for a serious crime. In the court's five-justice majority opinion, Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote, “"Taking and analyzing a cheek swab of the arrestee DNA is, like fingerprinting and photographing, a legitimate police booking procedure that is reasonable under the Fourth Amendment."

“For the majority, securing a DNA profile is a minor intrusion on personal liberty,” says Associate Professor Jules Epstein, noting, “and that intrusion is offset by the importance of ensuring that police can identify the person taken into custody.”

“What is the significance of this decision? First, this is already taking place for individuals arrested for federal crimes and for individuals arrested in 28 states, so the decision confirms the constitutionality of this practice,” Epstein observes. “Second, it means that since securing the DNA profile is lawful, once police have that profile they may check it against crime scene evidence from other crimes anywhere in the United States. Such a comparison will not be a violation of the individual's rights.”

Four justices dissented, however with Justice Scalia reading his dissent aloud in the courtroom. “Make no mistake about it: Because of today's decision, your DNA can be taken and entered into a national database if you are ever arrested, rightly or wrongly, and for whatever reason,” he said, continuing, “This will solve some extra crimes, to be sure. But so would taking your DNA when you fly on an airplane — surely the TSA must know the 'identity' of the flying public. For that matter, so would taking your children's DNA when they start public school."

Of the dissent, Epstein says, “The disagreement arose because in actuality Maryland does not use the DNA profile for police booking or to be sure of the identity of the person who has been arrested. Fingerprints, photographs and other identifiers accomplish that task. Maryland's statute was intended to get DNA to solve other crimes, not the crime this person was arrested for. The dissent emphasized a critical point - until this decision, there was never a right to search a group of people for evidence needed to solve other crimes without some evidence linking those people to those crimes.”

The bottom line according to Epstein is that additional states beyond the 28 that already have such provisions may now adopt them.