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Privacy Under Fire in U.S. Supreme Court Maryland v. King Case; Gainesville Criminal Defense Lawyer Explains Potential Ramifications


The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Maryland v. King that it is constitutional for police to take a DNA swab from a person arrested for a serious crime and then search for unsolved crimes with that sample. Gainesville criminal defense lawyer Dean Galigani explains the troubling implications of this case for Fourth Amendment protections.

Gainesville, FL (PRWEB) June 18, 2013

In Maryland v. King (2013 U.S. LEXIS 4165), the U.S. Supreme Court decided this month that it is permissible for police to take a DNA sample from those arrested for a "serious offense" and then use that sample as evidence for a completely different allegation. Gainesville criminal defense lawyer Dean Galigani said the ruling goes against one of the most important tenets of the U.S. criminal justice system: That police must have probable cause for a particular crime in order to perform a search on that person.

"A basic principle of American justice has been lost with this ruling: The requirement that police have sufficient reason to believe a person committed a crime before searching that person," Galigani said. "I am very concerned for very negative potential implications this ruling may have on liberty and privacy.”

Alonzo J. King was arrested and charged with assault in Maryland after allegedly pointing a shotgun at several people in 2009, according to Court documents. Police are allowed in Maryland, under a 1994 state law, to take DNA samples from people arrested for crimes of violence and check the sample against a database, with the intent of using it to solve unsolved crimes.

Police took a cotton swab from the inside of King's cheek, and performed the search using the resulting DNA, according to Court documents. In the database, the search returned a result for DNA from semen found at an alleged sexual assault from 2003. King was charged with sexual assault, and convicted using only the DNA evidence.

In Maryland v. King, the Supreme Court deliberated whether the Maryland law was constitutional, or whether it violated the Constitution's Fourth Amendment, which protects people from unreasonable searches and seizures. In a narrow decision, the Court ruled 5-4 that the state law was constitutional.

The majority opinion was written by Justice Anthony Kennedy and joined by Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, and Stephen Breyer. It likens taking the DNA swab, which contains all biological information for the corresponding person, with taking a fingerprint, arguing that the DNA sample is only used for identification purposes. The majority sees the use of DNA for identification as similar to comparing an arrestee's face to a wanted poster. For them, once a person is arrested for –but not convicted of—a serious offense, that person's interest in privacy is outweighed by the government's need for a correct identification of the person and their criminal history.

The minority opinion eviscerated the majority. In an unusual alliance, Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan joined an opinion by Justice Antonin Scalia that attacked the idea that the DNA sample was used just for identification purposes. It stated that the swab was, in fact, used to test suspects for other crimes without requiring a warrant.

Police with DNA evidence in a crime must, in most circumstances, obtain a warrant to get a DNA sample from a suspect. In order to obtain the warrant, they must show probable cause that the suspect committed the crime. Once they obtain the sample, they may test it against the DNA found in connection to the specific crime.

Scalia wrote that the Maryland v. King ruling gives police the ability to have what amounts to a "general warrant" — the ability to test the sample for any crime that has been committed, without any known connection to that crime.

"This 'general warrant' runs against the ideals of privacy and liberty inherent in the Fourth Amendment: that the police cannot search a person on suspicion of a crime without any probable cause to believe that person actually committed it," Galigani said. "We are granted certain constitutional protections, and ensuring those protections is more important than solving every crime."

Scalia pointed out some troubling possibilities that could result from this ruling, such as the possibility that a national database of DNA could be created. Mr. Galigani pointed out another possibility within the direction of this ruling: While the Maryland case only discussed arrests for "serious crimes," the precedent could lead to such a procedure for any crime. A person arrested for DUI in Gainesville could suddenly be the subject of a search for every unsolved crime in the nation.

"I'm very concerned at the direction this Court has taken on vital issues pertaining to privacy liberty," Galigani said.

Dean Galigani, of the Galigani Law Firm, is a Gainesville criminal defense lawyer who represents those accused of DUI, drug charges or other criminal matters.

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