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On June 3, the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 to overturn a ruling by Maryland’s Appeals Court regarding law enforcement’s ability to take DNA samples. The ruling means that law enforcement agencies can take DNA from a suspect they have detained in relation to a serious crime. The new ruling means that taking DNA samples will be regarded as part of standard booking procedure, along with taking fingerprints, photographs and other information about the suspect.

Supreme Court Ruling May Mean Big Changes for Criminal Defense Lawyers

Law enforcement agencies were quick to hail the ruling as a victory, according to reports in Reuters. The case involved a rape conviction from 2009. The case was overturned in 2010 when the Maryland appeals court held that the suspect, who was sentenced to life in prison, had his Fifth Amendment rights violated by the DNA gathering. The police had established no connection between the suspect and the rape, which occurred in 2003, when they performed the test. The suspect was arrested on two assault charges at the time that the DNA was gathered, according to the report.


Dissent on this ruling came from both conservative and liberal judges. Antonin Scalia, one of the most conservative justices on the court, noted in his dissent that the DNA was not gathered until days after the arrest, though the standard booking procedures were undertaken immediately. There is also some controversy about the use of the term “serious offenses” in the Supreme Court opinion. According to reporting, Scalia noted that DNA could theoretically be gathered after any arrest.

The Maryland Attorney General, Douglas Gansler, called the ruling a “victory” for law enforcement, as quoted in the story. Law enforcement agencies hold that the ruling will allow them to solve cold cases that may have been languishing for years. He also mentioned that the evidence could help to clear the names of those who have been wrongly convicted.

In addition to a mix of conservative and liberal justices, DNA gathering in the fashion addressed by the ruling was opposed by the American Civil Liberties Union. The organization likened the policy to allowing the police to conduct searches without a warrant and without having any particular suspicion that the person arrested committed a particular crime. The Reuters report quotes FBI statistics regarding DNA gathering. According to that information, there are 10 million convicted persons who have had their DNA gathered and 1.3 million people who have been arrested.

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