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Supreme Court Rules Police Can Swab for DNA Upon Arrest

Watch this discussion with Ray Suarez and National Law Journal’s Marcia Coyle about the oral hearings on King v. Maryland at the U.S. Supreme Court. This piece first aired in February 2013. Read a full transcript of the interview.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled Monday that police are permitted under the Fourth Amendment to collect and analyze DNA of a person arrested and charged of a crime, but not yet convicted. In a 5-4 vote, the court reversed a decision to overturn the 2010 conviction and life sentence of Alonzo Jay King Jr.

The case was brought before the Supreme Court by the state of Maryland after King’s lawyers argued that the DNA collected without a warrant had been an unreasonable search and seizure. The DNA led to his indictment and conviction for a previously unsolved rape case. King had tried to suppress the DNA swab as evidence in the case, but failed when the trial court allowed the swab as evidence.

Then, Maryland’s highest court reviewed and overturned the trial court’s decision, including, which resulted in the case being brought before the Supreme Court.

In an interview with Ray Suarez, National Law Journal’s Marcia Coyle explained the crux of the debate behind this Supreme Court decision.

“We say that the Fourth Amendment protects us from unreasonable searches and seizures.

“And the main way that protection is enforced is through a warrant … Maryland was arguing that the DNA swab here is not very intrusive. It’s very comparable to fingerprinting, which has been around for almost a century, and also that an arrestee has a reduced expectation of privacy, which is one of the things that the court balances.

“It looks at whether there was a reasonable expectation of privacy in the things searched versus what interest is served for the government in doing this particular search.

The majority who voted in favor of the decision were justices Stephen Breyer, Anthony Kennedy, John Roberts, Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas.

Justices who dissented were Antonin Scalia, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan.

The Court, which concludes this year’s term at the end of June, has yet to deliver decisions on a number of other cases, including decisions on the Defense of Marriage Act, California’s Proposition 8 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

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