Yesterday, in a case that has significant implications for the law enforcement community, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the use of post-arrest DNA testing. Currently, twenty-eight states and the federal government have laws that provide for automatic DNA testing of arrestees.
In its 5-4 ruling the Court held that “when officers make an arrest supported by probable cause to hold for a serious offense and bring the suspect to the station to be detained in custody, taking and analyzing a cheek swab of the arrestee’s DNA is, like fingerprinting and photographing, a legitimate police booking procedure that is reasonable under the Fourth Amendment.”
The IACP has long been a proponent of post-arrest DNA sampling. The ability of law enforcement agencies to obtain DNA samples is essential to their ability to accurately identify individuals under arrest, provides essential linkages to unsolved crimes and assists in the exoneration of innocent individuals.
The case decided by court, Maryland v. King, centered on the 2009 arrest of Alonzo King. Mr. King was charged with first and second degree assault. Pursuant to Maryland’s DNA Collection Act, law enforcement authorities required Mr. King to submit to a buccal swab of his inner cheek to obtain a DNA sample. In accordance with the state’s regulations, the sample was submitted to the Combined DNA Index System (CODIS) for a comparison to other unknown samples on file.
The analysis showed a match between Mr. King’s DNA sample and a sample retrieved from the investigation of an unsolved rape that had occurred in 2003. Based on this match, King was charged with the rape and robbery.
After failing to have the DNA evidence suppressed before trial, King agreed to waive his right to a jury trial and agreed to be tried on an undisputed statement of facts. He was convicted of first degree rape, and appealed his conviction. The conviction was overturned by Maryland’s Court of Appeals, the State’s highest court, which held that the taking of Mr. King’s DNA evidence was unreasonable under the Fourth Amendment, and should have been suppressed by the trial court.
The State of Maryland appealed the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court. Earlier this year, the IACP along with the Maryland Chiefs of Police Association, Maryland Sheriffs Association and other law enforcement and municipal organizations, filed an amicus brief with the Supreme Court outlining law enforcement’s view on this critical issue.
In its brief, the IACP argued that:
• Each law enforcement officer in this country takes an oath to uphold the United States Constitution and the constitution and laws of the various states. In support of this oath and to serve the public safety needs of their communities, officers are tasked with conducting investigations that have a dual goal: to exonerate the innocent and to arrest and lay the investigative groundwork that will ensure conviction of the guilty. DNA evidence makes a substantial contribution toward achieving this dual goal because it provides an accurate means of suspect identification.
• The prompt identification of arrestees allows law enforcement to narrow the focus of criminal investigations and effectively solve cases, new and old, more quickly. DNA collection and testing supports the efficiency of this process, while protecting innocent persons, and shields officers from potential civil liability for wrongful detentions. Contrarily, an arrestee has minimal privacy interests in either protecting against discovery of his true identity or of his past crimes.
A copy of the IACP’s brief can be viewed HERE.
The Court’s ruling in this case can be viewed HERE.