Supreme Court Stays Maryland’s State Court of Appeals DNA Ruling

Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts is allowing police in Maryland to resume collecting DNA samples from people arrested for serious crimes.  Roberts on July 18,2012,  issued an order that temporarily blocked the Maryland Court of Appeals ruling effectively barring the collection of genetic material from criminal suspects without a warrant.

The order of stay was issued at the state’s request in the case of Alonzo King Jr. King (1)  who was convicted of a 2003 rape based on DNA evidence taken after his arrest on assault charges in 2009.  The sample matched DNA collected from the victim in the 2003 attack.  Chief Judge Roberts said his order will remain in effect at least until King responds to the state’s arguments. Justice Roberts set a July 25 deadline for the response

In Maryland, as in about half the states, it has been routine practice since 2009, for law enforcement officers to take DNA samples from individuals charged with certain serious crimes. Collecting the samples involves swabbing the inside of a cheek.  Proponents of the procedure argue that it is an easy, quick and painless procedure- no more invasive than fingerprinting. In addition to its utility in identifying suspects, collecting DNA from pretrial detainees has helped to close cold cases, including some serious one.

In a 5 to 2 decision, the State Court of Appeals ruled that suspects enjoy, along with the presumption of innocence, an expectation of privacy ( including from DNA swabs),  that outweighs the government’s interest in fighting crime. The Court had previously given the green light to taking DNA samples from violent criminals following conviction.

Maryland’s Attorney General, Douglas F. Gansler, in defending the collection of DNA samples,  argues that it is nothing more than an updated means of accurately identifying arrestees. As with fingerprints or even blood drawn from suspects, DNA swabs can help police to implicate or exonerate a suspect in a crime, past or present.


(1)   Alonzo Jay King Jr. v. State of Maryland .

(2)   To read the full article by Matt Zapotosky  of the Washington Post, go to this cite:

(3)  See also the Baltimore Sun Article by Yvonne Wenger, dated July 19, 2012.