A divided U.S. Supreme Court on Monday ruled that police may collect DNA samples from people who have been arrested but not convicted of a crime, an opinion that overturns a ruling by Maryland's highest court.
"Taking and analyzing a cheek swab of the arrestee DNA is, like fingerprinting and photographing, a legitimate police booking procedure that is reasonable under the Fourth Amendment," Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote for the court's 5-4 majority.
Dissenting Justice Antonin Scalia argued that the court was allowing a major overreach in police powers.
"Because of today's decision, your DNA can be taken and entered into a national database if you are ever arrested, rightly or wrongly, and for whatever reason," the conservative Scalia said. "This will solve some extra crimes, to be sure. But so would taking your DNA when you fly on an airplane ... so would taking your children's DNA when they start public school."
|• Maryland's DNA Collection Act authorizes law enforcement officers to collect DNA samples from a person who is arrested, but not yet convicted, for violent crimes or burglary.|
|• Virginia had already upheld the constitutionality of DNA collection in Anderson v. Commonwealth. A DNA sample taken from Angel Anderson on an arrest for 2001 rape linked him to an unsolved 1991 rape of a school employee in Fairfax County.|
|• In D.C., samples are taken from people who are arrested on federal charges.|
Maryland Attorney General Douglas Gansler called the ruling a "resounding victory."
"This decision will help us solve cases and take criminals off the street," Gansler said.
The case, Maryland v. King, centered around the conviction of a Salisbury, Md., man named Alonzo King Jr., who was arrested on an assault charge in 2009. As he was booked into the Wicomico County jail, law enforcement officials took a swab from the inside of his cheek to collect a DNA sample. The information was uploaded into a state database that matched his profile to an unsolved 2003 rape of a 53-year-old woman.
He was convicted of that rape and sentenced to life in prison.
But the Maryland Court of Appeals last year tossed out King's conviction and ruled that the state law violated the Fourth Amendment's prohibition of unreasonable searches and seizures. The Maryland court was one of the first to say that it was illegal to take DNA without approval from a judge.
Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. ordered a stay of the Maryland decision until the Supreme Court could review the case. Maryland stopped collecting DNA after that decision, but Roberts allowed police to keep collecting DNA samples pending the high court's review.
Kennedy was joined in his opinion by Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Samuel Alito, Clarence Thomas and Stephen Breyer. Scalia was joined in his dissent by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan. The high court's decision reverses that ruling and reinstates King's rape conviction.
Maryland and Virginia are among 28 states, along with federal law enforcement, that allow police to collect DNA from people who have been arrested for various crimes. In the District, samples are taken from people charged with federal crimes.
All 50 states and the federal government take cheek swabs from convicted criminals to check against federal and state data banks. The FBI's Combined DNA Index System already contains more than 10 million criminal profiles and 1.1 million profiles of those arrested.