A stunning ruling by Maryland's highest court prohibiting law enforcement authorities from collecting DNA from suspects before they are convicted could head to higher courts. The Sun's Yvonne Wenger, in her story today, points to a U.S. Court of Appeals decision that upholds such testing in New Jersey, Delaware and Pennsylvania.
But for now, the court's ruling deals a blow to one of Gov. Martin O'Malley's signature crime fighting efforts, one that is much touted whenever a suspect is charged with a crime based on a genetic sample.
Judges ruled 5-2 that taking a DNA sample from Alonzo Jay King Jr.'s assault arrest on the Eastern Shore violated his constitutional protection against unreasonable search. The DNA sample led to a rape conviction.
Yvonne reported that the state has collected nearly 16,000 DNA samples since the DNA law took effect in January 2009 and used that evidence to gain 58 convictions, including in 34 burglaries and eight rapes. She quotes O'Malley:
"The concept is simple: When we increase the library of DNA samples in our state, we solve more crimes. We take more criminals off the streets more quickly and put them in jail for a longer period of time so that they cannot murder, rape or harm other citizens among us."
The judges said:
"The State’s purported interests are made less reasonable by the fact that DNA collection can wait until a person has been convicted, thus avoiding all of the threats to privacy discussed in this opinion. DNA profiles do not change over time (as far as science “knows” at present), so there is no reasonable argument that unsolved past or future crimes will go unresolved necessarily. We simply will not allow warrantless, suspicionless searches of biological materials without a showing that accurate identification was not possible using “traditional” methods. ... The DNA evidence presented at trial was a fruit of the poisonous tree."
Two judges dissented:
"The majority arrives at this decision by overinflating an arrestee's interest in privacy and underestimating the state's interest in collecting arrestee DNA, and in doing so, plays fast and loose with the well-recognized test for determining the constitutionality of warrantless searches."
Read Yvonne's complete story from today.
Read the court's opinion.