U.S. Supreme Court justices are well acquainted with big cases. After all, they sit on the highest court in the land. But in a case currently before the court on collection of DNA evidence at the time of arrest, even one of the justices is struck by how consequential the ruling will be.
Earlier this week, during oral argument of Maryland v. King, Justice Samuel A. Alito, Jr. called it "the most important criminal procedure case that this court has heard in decades."
Criminal suspects in the St. Louis area and across the country will be affected by the court's decision.
The case arose out of a collection of DNA from a man arrested in Maryland on an assault charge. The DNA was obtained by swabbing the man's check. Laboratory analysis showed that his DNA profile matched evidence from an earlier rape. He was convicted of that rape.
The man appealed, however, contending that a state law authorizing the extraction of DNA evidence from people who were arrested but not yet convicted was unconstitutional. His argument is that such laws violate Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable search and seizure.
The Maryland Court of Appeals accepted that argument and found the law unconstitutional. But the U.S. Supreme Court has blocked that ruling from taking effect. In issuing a stay of the Maryland ruling, Chief Justice Roberts noted that about half of the law enforcement agencies in the U.S. make it standard practice to collect DNA from people accused of serious offenses.
In oral argument, the U.S. Supreme Court seemed to struggle to find a principle by DNA could be extracted for some offenses but not others.
Source: "Justices Wrestle Over Allowing DNA Sampling at Time of Arrest," The New York Times, Adam Liptak, 2-26-13
Our firm handles situations similar to those discussed in this post in the St. Louis area. To learn more about our practice, please visit our main criminal defense page.