Getting DNA swabs from criminals is common. All 50 states and the federal government take cheek swabs from convicted criminals to check against federal and state databanks, with the court’s blessing. The fight at the Supreme Court was over whether that DNA collection could come before conviction and without a judge issuing a warrant.
According to court documents, the FBI’s Combined DNA Index System or CODIS — a coordinated system of federal, state and local databases of DNA profiles — already contains more than 10 million criminal profiles and 1.1 million profiles of those arrested. According to the FBI, the DNA samples from people whose charges have been dismissed, who have been acquitted or against whom no charges have been brought are to be expunged from the federal system. But states and other municipalities that collect DNA make their own rules about what happens to their collections.
In the case before the court, a 53-year-old woman was raped and robbed but no one was arrested. Almost six years later, Alonzo King was arrested and charged with felony second-degree assault in a separate case. Relying on the Maryland law that allows warrantless DNA tests following some felony arrests, police took a cheek swab of King’s DNA, which matched a sample from the 2003 Salisbury rape. King was convicted of rape and sentenced to life in prison.
King eventually pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of misdemeanor assault from his arrest, a crime for which Maryland cannot take warrantless DNA samples. The state court said King’s rights therefore had been violated when the state took his DNA based on that arrest alone.
Maryland stopped collecting DNA after that decision, but Roberts allowed police to keep collecting DNA samples pending the high court’s review.
The case is Maryland v. King, 12-207.
On The Net:
The FBI’s frequently asked questions about its DNA databases: http://www.fbi.gov/about-us/lab/biometric-analysis/codis/codis-and-ndis-fact-sheet