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Your DNA, the Government and Cold Cases

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June 24, 2013

In April of 2009, Alonzo King was arrested in Maryland after he threatened a group of people with a shotgun and was later charged with a couple of counts of assault. Pursuant to a Maryland law that allows law enforcement to obtain a DNA sample of people accused of crimes of violence or attempts to commit crimes of violence, the police swabbed the inside of Mr. King’s cheek to obtain a sample of the skin cells inside his mouth.

When the police submitted the DNA sample for comparison with the FBI’s DNA database, the system indicated King’s DNA matched the DNA recovered in an unresolved rape case in Maryland. King was charged and later convicted of this rape.

King appealed his conviction, arguing that the swab of the inside of his cheek and the taking of his DNA was an unlawful seizure and the United States Supreme Court eventually upheld Maryland’s practice of collecting DNA from people accused of violent crimes or attempted violent crimes.

There are many technical Fourth Amendment questions that this decision addressed and many Fourth Amendment questions are now left in the wake of this decision. I’m not going to try and discuss those here today, but I do have some everyday policy questions that I would love to get your thoughts on:

– Do you think the police should be able to collect your DNA if you’re arrested? Alabama doesn’t have a law like Maryland, but it probably will have one soon.

– The Maryland law allows DNA collection if you’re charged with a violent crime or an attempted violent crime. It probably won’t be long until we see laws that allow for DNA collection for a wider range of charged offenses. Where do you think the line should be drawn.

– The Fourth Amendment protects us against “unreasonable searches” by law enforcement. Do you think testing DNA collected from an arrest against the massive federal database is a “reasonable search” under the Fourth Amendment, or is it an unconstitutional fishing expedition?

– Even if you think testing the DNA recovered in an arrest is unconstitutional, do you think we should support testing the DNA against the database in hopes of solving cold cases, the vast majority of which are murders, violent crimes and sex crimes?

For further reading, check out the Supreme Court’s decision in this case: Maryland v. King. It’s not too technical for the non-lawyers out there. I’d especially read Justice Scalia’s fiery dissent.



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