DNA CASE APPEARS TO BE DIVIDED IN THE UNITED STATES SUPREME COURT

March 5, 2013
By Lauren Johnson on March 5, 2013 1:33 PM |


In 2009 Alonzo Jay King Jr. was arrested for assault in the state of Maryland. Pursuant to Maryland's DNA Collection Act (Maryland law that allows officials-without a warrant- to take the DNA of someone who has been arrested but not convicted of a serious crime). The federal government and 28 other states have similar laws, including California (California Penal Code §296).

Subsequent to the arrest and DNA collection, officials were able to eventually produce a match through the CODIS DNA database (CODIS is a computer software program that operates local, State, and national databases of DNA profiles from convicted offenders, unsolved crime scene evidence, and missing persons) with a previously unresolved rape case from 2003. At trial King argued that the DNA draw violated his constitutional rights, but he lost and was sentenced to life in prison for the 2003 case. In April, an appeals court ruled in favor of King. The Court said that King's rights to be free from unreasonable warrantless searches had been violated.

In Maryland v. King during oral arguments, Kannon K. Shanmugamer, King's lawyer argued that the taking of DNA is distinguishable from the taking of fingerprints because DNA contains far more information, the search is physically intrusive, and law enforcement's primary purpose to take the DNA is not for identification purposes. "Maryland searched my client without a warrant in order to investigate crimes for which there is no suspicion," Shanmugam argued "It is settled law that warrantless, suspicionless searches are presumptively unconstitutional."

During animated arguments the Justices seemed divided on some key issues. One of the central questions in front of the court as Justice Alito eloquently stated is:"So this is what is at stake: Lots of murders, lots of rapes that can be solved using this new technology that involves a very minimal intrusion on personal privacy. But why isn't this the fingerprinting of the 21st Century?"

Justice Elena Kagan posed critical questions regarding the law. She asked the Chief Deputy Attorney General of Maryland, that if the purpose of the law is not so much for identification, but to solve cold cases, "then it's just like searching your house, to see what's in your house that could help solve cold cases." A search of the home- unless there is an emergency- requires a warrant. "Just because you've been arrested, doesn't mean that you lose the privacy expectations and things you have that aren't related to the offense that you've been arrested for," Kagan said.

The United States government favors the law, and argues that arrestees lose some of their privacy by virtue of the fact they've been arrested, "Arrestees are in a unique category, they are on the gateway into the criminal justice system. They are no longer like free citizens who are wandering around on the streets retaining full impact Fourth Amendment rights." Deputy Solicitor General Michael R. Dreeben noted that when someone is taken into jail he is subject to a visual strip search. If he's admitted into the prison population a TB test and a thorough medical screen is done.

Dreeban went on further to say that the DNA collection is not any different than submitting to fingerprints, it is primarily for identification purposes. The fingerprint comparison brought up another concern of the Justices. A fingerprint analysis is almost immediate while DNA can take days or sometimes weeks to analyze depending upon the available technology and back log. How can something that can take days to acquire have a primary purpose for identification.

He said that soon this distinction won't matter. "The future is very close to where there will be "rapid DNA analyzers" that are devices that can analyze and produce the identification material in the DNA within 90 minutes."

In the state of California if you were arrested for a Felony and submitted a DNA sample pursuant to Penal Code 296 and charges against you were never filed or were later dismissed, you can petition the court to have your DNA sample expunged pursuant to Penal Code §299.

The Law Office of Lauren K Johnson represents many clients that are arrested for various felonies and were subjected to providing a DNA sample at the time of their arrest. Contact our office today for help with your case.