Mr. Beat presents Supreme Court Briefs Salisbury, Maryland
April 10, 2009 Police arrest Alonzo King, Jr. for waving a gun at a group of people. They later find a 12-gauge shotgun in his car and charge him with assault. So you see, in Maryland there’s this law called the DNA Collection Act. It gives the police the authority to collect DNA samples and put them in a database prior to convicting the person. So back at the station, police get a sample of King’s DNA by swabbing the inside of his cheek, sending it to be analyzed and uploaded to the database. On August 4, the results came back, showing King’s DNA matched the DNA in an unsolved rape case from 2003. A grand jury said dude, we are indicting you for that, so King went on trial for the rape case. King was like, what? What does that have to do with the reason why I got arrested in the first place? He filed a motion to block the DNA evidence from being used in court for Wicomico County, saying his Fourth Amendment rights were broken because the DNA swab fell under unreasonable searches and seizures. The judge denied his motion, and King pleaded not guilty to the rape charge. The DNA sample was the only real evidence linking King to the rape. The trial court found him guilty, and he was sentenced to life in prison. However, King appealed to the Maryland Court of Appeals, who reversed the conviction, saying the DNA sampling went against the Fourth Amendment as King argued. They argued King’s right to privacy was more important than Maryland’s desire to use his DNA to identify him. And yet, they still said the DNA Collection Act was constitutional. Maryland appealed the ruling, asking the Supreme Court to look at the case, and they did on February 26, 2013. The main issue with this case was whether or not the Fourth Amendment allowed states to sample and analyze DNA from folks arrested but not convicted of serious crimes. The Court announced their decision on June 3rd. They sided with Maryland. It was 5-4, but it wasn’t your typical liberal-leaning vs. conservative-leaning decision. I mean, you had Antonin Scalia on the same team as Elena Kagan, Sonia Sotomayor, and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, for crying out loud. Justice Anthony Kennedy gave the opinion, arguing the DNA swab test did NOT violate the Fourth Amendment because it served the safety of the state of Maryland, yet wasn’t too invasive where a warrant would be needed. The Court also argued that the DNA records were basically just an extension of other ways the police already kept databases of people they arrested to help solve future crimes, comparing it to things like fingerprinting. Justice Scalia wrote a passionate dissent, arguing the Fourth Amendment definitely prohibits the police from searching a person for evidence of a crime if it’s a completely different crime than the one the person was arrested for. Scalia argued sure, the DNA of arrested people helps the police solve more crimes, but they could also solve more crimes if they collected DNA anytime someone enrolled in public school or got a driver’s license, which was an absurd thing to consider. Maryland v. King is a recent decision that has big implications on those living in one of the 30 states where they can arrest you, force you to give a DNA sample, and then later charge you with a different crime based on the results of the DNA sample. Although not many Americans know about the case, it’s yet another example of how many argue the Fourth Amendment is consistently threatened as technology gets more and more advanced. I’ll see you for the next Supreme Court case, jury! Well that was Orwellian. What do you think about this decision? Let me know in the comments below. This Supreme Court case was suggested by my wonderful Patreon supporter Beau Branch. I’m so glad you suggested it, Beau! Thanks for all the kind words about this series- it’s never going away, so don’t worry. I’m taking next week off to celebrate Labor Day, and also because I’m overworked, so see you in two weeks. Peace, love and respect, I’m out.