Sunday, March 3, 2013
When people suspected of crimes are arrested they are usually fingerprinted. Is that a violation of their constitutional rights?
Of course not. Taking fingerprints is a way to accurately identify suspects in the criminal justice system. And the fact the identifier is kept in a database used to help convict — or clear — suspects in future cases has no bearing on whether the Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable search has been violated.
A Maryland court ordered the release of a rapist serving a life sentence because police had violated his rights in collecting a DNA sample used to convict him after he was arrested for another crime.
The U.S. Supreme Court is not weighing whether the Maryland court got it right.
We take the Fourth Amendment and the many rights it affords Americans extremely seriously. Law enforcement should be held to the letter of the constitutional protections against unreasonable searches of people or their property and the way search warrants are obtained.
The Maryland court seems to have read more into the Fourth Amendment than the Founding Fathers wrote. The high court should overrule it.
In the case in question, Alonzo King was arrested and charged with second-degree assault. Under Maryland law, police can routinely take DNA samples of those arrested by swabbing the inside of the cheek with something like a Q-tip.
When the DNA sample was checked against other samples in the databank it matched DNA from a rape of a 53-year-old woman six years later.
King was convicted of the rape and sent to prison for life.
But King was never convicted of the second-degree assault that led to his arrest. He took a plea-bargain deal and pled guilty to the lesser charge of misdemeanor assault.
The Maryland court ruled the DNA sample was unusable evidence because samples cannot be collected from those arrested for misdemeanors.
Wow. That’s a judicial stretch.
The law in Maryland allows for DNA samples to be taken at the time of arrest just as state laws all over the country allow for fingerprints. Millions of people have been fingerprinted and never been convicted of the crime. Is law enforcement supposed to throw away the prints if there is no conviction?
Well, if King’s release is upheld by the Supreme Court, more than 1 million DNA profiles stored in a federal database for matching with future crime scene evidence might have to be destroyed. Convictions will likely be overturned. Dangerous and repeat offenders could then go free.
King’s rights were not violated. Police had a reasonable suspicion to arrest him for a crime. They weren’t fishing for evidence. King was involved in that assault, and he admitted it in court.
Collecting and storing DNA samples should be permissible as long as there is probable cause for the arrest.