Based on a recent decision by the U.S. Supreme Court, law enforcement officers will now be able to collect more than an arrested individual’s fingerprints and photograph when completing the booking process. In addition, the high court ruled, police officers are allowed to collect a sample of the person’s DNA when he or she has been arrested for certain serious crimes.
Previously, officers were allowed to collect DNA samples after an individual was convicted of a felony. In addition, in certain states – including Utah – law enforcement officers were allowed to take DNA samples from individuals who had been arrested. The law in Utah, which was passed in 2010, allowed officers to collect the sample from those accused of violent crimes; however, the sample could not be processed until a grand jury indictment or the determination of a trial date.
The US Supreme Court’s ruling
Maryland v. King, the case before the high court, began in 2003 when a woman was raped. No arrests were made in the case at the time of the incident. Years later, in 2009, a man was arrested in Maryland and charged with first- and second-degree assault. At the time of his arrest, a DNA sample was taken and entered into a database.
The man’s DNA matched that on file from the unsolved case from 2003, and he was charged and convicted of rape. He was sentenced to life in prison. Arguing that his Fourth Amendment rights had been violated when his DNA was taken without a warrant, the man appealed the conviction. The Maryland Court of Appeals determined that the law in Maryland allowing DNA samples to be taken in such cases was unconstitutional, and the rape conviction was set aside.
The U.S. Supreme Court, in a 5-4 decision, reversed the Maryland Court of Appeals. Justice Kennedy, writing for the majority, likened the taking of a DNA sample to the common practice of taking an arrestee’s photograph and fingerprints upon booking.
While some suggest the decision may assist in clearing the names of those who have been wrongfully convicted, there are many who have taken issue with the majority’s decision. A common argument is that taking an arrestee’s DNA violates his or her Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures.
When an individual is arrested, being aware of his or her rights under the circumstances is critical. If you are facing criminal charges, consulting with a knowledgeable criminal defense attorney is a wise step to ensure a strong defense is established on your behalf.