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Maryland high court strikes down DNA collection law

The Maryland Court of Appeals [official website] on Tuesday struck down [opinion, PDF] a law [text, PDF] allowing police to collect DNA from individuals arrested for violent crimes and burglaries, finding it an unconstitutional violation of the Fourth Amendment [Cornell LII backgrounder]. The question was whether the government interest in collecting and testing a DNA sample without a warrant outweighs the intrusion on an arrestee's privacy. The 5-2 majority opinion stated:

The State's purported interests are made less reasonable by the fact that DNA collection can wait until a person has been convicted, thus avoiding all the threats to privacy discussed in this opinion. We simply will not allow warrantless, suspicionless searches of biological materials without a showing that accurate identification was not possible using 'traditional' methods. In cases where DNA is required for conviction, there will be likely substantial other evidence to provide probable cause for a search warrant.
The law was one of Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley's chief initiatives and has led to a huge increase in the DNA sample library as well as convictions for previous offenses. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) [advocacy website] said the decision provided limits on the government's ability to collect DNA from individuals not convicted of a crime. An appeal to the Supreme Court is still being considered [AP report].

In February the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit [official website] ruled [JURIST report] that buccal mouth swabs may be used to extract DNA samples from any adult arrested or charged with a felony in California. In January the Minnesota Supreme Court [official website] upheld a state statute requiring people convicted of crimes to submit a DNA sample, similarly ruling that such a mandate does not violate the Fourth Amendment [JURIST report]. In August a California appellate court struck down the 2004 Amendment [JURIST report] to the DNA Act, overturning a misdemeanor conviction for a felon's refusal to provide a DNA sample after confessing to an arson. US Attorney General Eric Holder [official website] instructed federal prosecutors in November 2010 to use DNA evidence as much as possible [JURIST report] reversing the previous policy of the Bush administration. In May 2009, a California district court upheld the constitutionality of mandatory DNA collection [JURIST report] for all persons arrested or detained under federal authority. That same year a South Carolina law was upheld that requires convicted first degree sex offenders to submit to a DNA test [JURIST report] prior to their release.

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About Paper Chase

Paper Chase is JURIST's real-time legal news service, powered by a team of 30 law student reporters and editors led by law professor Bernard Hibbitts at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law. As an educational service, Paper Chase is dedicated to presenting important legal news and materials rapidly, objectively and intelligibly in an accessible format.

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