U.S. Supreme Court Rules Against Privacy Concerns in Maryland v. King; Jacksonville Criminal Defense Attorney Discusses Implications

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In Maryland v. King, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled police could use a DNA sample taken from a person arrested for a serious crime to search for other unsolved crimes. Jacksonville criminal defense lawyer Bill Roelke says the ruling may violate principles of the Fourth Amendment.

The U.S. Supreme Court handed down a decision earlier this year in Maryland v. King (2013 U.S. LEXIS 4165). The majority opinion in the case rules that police may take a DNA sample of any person arrested for a serious offense, and search to determine whether identical DNA has turned up associated with any other unsolved crime. The decision is a blow to privacy and an abandonment of critical principles of the Fourth Amendment, said Jacksonville criminal defense lawyer Bill Roelke.

"The Maryland v. King decision violates basic tenets of the constitutional protection against unreasonable searches and seizures: That police must have probable cause regarding a specific crime to conduct a search," Roelke said. "This decision has potentially alarming ramifications."

In 2009, Alonzo J. King was arrested in Maryland and charged with assault for allegedly pointing a shotgun at several people. After he was arrested, police used a cotton swab to collect his DNA, taking a sample from the inside of King's cheek.

Police did this under a 1994 Maryland law that allows officers to take DNA samples of every person arrest for a crime of violence, and run it thorough a database to solve unsolved crimes. In King's case, the search matched his DNA with semen found at the scene of a sexual assault in 2003. Prosecutors charged King with sexual assault and, using the DNA as their sole evidence, secured a conviction against him.

The Supreme Court case tested whether the Maryland law is constitutional under the Fourth Amendment, which protects people against unreasonable searches and seizures. In a narrow 5-4 decision, Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote for the majority that the law is constitutional.

A swab inside the mouth is not sufficiently invasive to trigger privacy concerns, and a person who allegedly commits a dangerous act is not afforded the same level of privacy, Kennedy wrote. The majority opinion equates taking DNA with taking fingerprints, and suggests taking DNA is a means only for identification.

Justice Antonin Scalia dissented and was joined by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan. Scalia wrote the true reason for the DNA swab was not identification; it is to test the suspect for unrelated crimes without the hassle or standard of proof required for a warrant.

In 2009, Florida passed a law (Fla. Stat. § 943.325) requiring the acquisition of DNA and running it through a database for anyone charge with a felony, Roelke said. The decision in King unfortunately allows the practice to continue, he said.

In Scalia's dissent, he wrote the ruling essentially gave police a "general warrant," allowing police to conduct a search for any crime committed.

"The principles of the Fourth Amendment do not allow for a 'general warrant,'" Roelke said. "The Fourth Amendment is there for our protection. As Justice Scalia wrote, taking DNA samples every time we ride in an airplane or sign up for a driver's license would likely solve many crimes, but it runs completely contrary to the society envisioned in the Constitution."

Scalia warned of the potential for a national database of DNA. Roelke further expressed concern that, while the Maryland law was limited to crimes of violence, the King ruling opens the door for such searches for any crime. An arrest for DUI in Jacksonville could subject a person to a search for any crime in the United States.

"This is a disturbing result, and it causes me to be concerned for both our privacy and liberty as a result of this ruling," Roelke said.

Bill Roelke, of Roelke Law Firm, is a Jacksonville criminal defense lawyer who represents those accused of DUI, drug charges, sex offenses and other criminal offenses.

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Bill Roelke
since: 08/2011
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