Supreme Court taking up question of DNA collection

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Local,Crime,Scott McCabe

The U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments Tuesday in a Maryland case which will decide whether police can collect DNA from people who have been arrested, but not yet convicted.

The case centers around a Salisbury man named Alonzo King, who was arrested for assault in 2009 for pointing a shotgun at a group of people on the Eastern Shore.

Police took a saliva sample from King's cheek and tested the DNA against a database of previous crimes. The evidence linked King to a 2003 rape in Wicomico County.

King was convicted of the rape and sentenced to life without parole.

But Maryland's high court last year tossed out King's conviction and ruled that the state law violated the Fourth Amendment's prohibition of unreasonable searches and seizures.

Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. last year ordered a stay of that Maryland decision until the Supreme Court could review the case.

Roberts wrote in his brief at the time that the state would suffer irreparable harm if it could not use "a valuable tool for investigating unsolved crimes and thereby helping to remove violent offenders from the general population."

The Civil Rights Clinic at Howard University School of Law filed a brief in the case opposing the collection of DNA before a conviction.

Aderson Francois, who runs the clinic, compared the taking of the DNA sample without a warrant to allowing police to search your house without a warrant just because it might solve some crime for which you have not been accused.

"DNA tells a lot of private information about a person," far more than a fingerprint, Francois told The Washington Examiner. "It opens your entire life to police. I think all Americans should be concerned about that."

Advocates for the law say the practice of early collection prevents crime.

"Had the recidivists been identified early in their career through arrestee collection, they would not have been able to commit the bulk of their crimes," said William C. Sammons of the Maryland Coalition Against Sexual Assault.

Maryland is one of 28 states that -- along with federal law enforcement agencies -- collects DNA from people who have been arrested for various crimes.

According to court documents, the FBI's Combined DNA Index System is a coordinated system of federal, state and local databases of DNA profiles contains more than 10 million criminal profiles and 1.1 million arrestee profiles.

The Supreme Court justices are expected to reach a decision before their summer recess.

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.

smccabe@washingtonexaminer.com

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