Court Says Taking DNA From Arrestees Charged With Serious Crimes Is OK

For many people who are arrested - particularly those who are facing an arrest for the first time - they may be uncertain about the rights they have during the process. Most people are aware that during the booking procedure, their fingerprints and photograph will be taken by law enforcement officers. According to a recent decision issued by the U.S. Supreme Court, police officers may now also take a sample of the arrestee's DNA.

Prior to this decision, a number of states had laws in place allowing officers to take a DNA sample from individuals who were arrested for certain serious crimes. The case before the U.S. Supreme Court - Maryland v. King - surrounded allegations of crimes that took place in a state with such a law.

In 2009, a man was arrested in Maryland on charges of assault. Under Maryland's DNA Collection Act, law enforcement officers in the state were allowed to take a DNA sample from individuals who were arrested for particular crimes. Consequently, the officers involved in the arrest took a sample of the man's DNA.

The DNA sample was then entered into a national database, to determine if it matched DNA from other, unsolved cases. The search determined that the man's DNA was a match in a case from 2003, in which a woman had been raped. The case had never been solved.

As a result, the man was charged with rape, in addition to the assault charges he was already facing. He was convicted of rape, and sentenced to life in prison. Upon appeal, the Maryland Court of Appeals reversed the conviction, indicating that the Maryland law was unconstitutional.

The US Supreme Court And The Fourth Amendment

In the majority decision, Justice Kennedy wrote that taking an arrestee's DNA is a "legitimate police booking procedure that is reasonable under the Fourth Amendment," when the individual's arrest is supported by probable cause and the charges are for a "serious offense."

Some have argued, including the dissenting justices, that taking a sample of an individual's DNA violates his or her Fourth Amendment rights. The Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution provides that people should be "secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures."

While Justice Kennedy acknowledged that taking a DNA sample amounts to a Fourth Amendment search, he concluded that such a search was not unreasonable, when comparing "legitimate governmental interests" with the search's intrusion into the arrestee's privacy.

If you are facing criminal charges and are unsure of your rights, consulting with an experienced criminal defense attorney will ensure a strong defense is established on your behalf.