Maryland v. King


When state officials collect and analyze a DNA sample taken from a person who has been arrested for, but not convicted of, a criminal offense, is there a violation of the person’s right against unreasonable searches as guaranteed by the Fourth Amendment?

Oral argument: 
February 26, 2013
Court below: 

Maryland police arrested Alonzo Jay King, Jr., in 2009 for first- and second-degree assault. Under Maryland’s DNA Collection Act (the “DNA Act”), the police were authorized to collect King’s DNA. When the DNA data was added to the state’s database, it matched a prior set of DNA data collected in a separate 2003 rape case that remained unsolved. Using the 2009 DNA match as evidence, a Maryland trial court convicted King of the 2003 rape. The state’s highest court reversed King’s conviction, finding that the DNA evidence was improperly obtained during an unreasonable search. The court deemed the search unreasonable and thus unconstitutional under the Fourth Amendment because King’s right to the expectation of privacy was greater than Maryland’s interest in using his DNA to identify him. Still, the court upheld the constitutionality of the DNA Act overall. How the Supreme Court decides this case will reflect its view on the correct balance between the government’s interest in solving violent crimes using DNA evidence and an individual’s interest in retaining his Fourth Amendment right against warrantless, suspicionless searches.

Questions as Framed for the Court by the Parties 

Does the Fourth Amendment allow the States to collect and analyze DNA from people arrested and charged with serious crimes?


When state officials collect and analyze a DNA sample taken from a person who has been arrested for, but not convicted of, a criminal offense, is there a violation of the person’s right against unreasonable searches as guaranteed by the Fourth Amendment?



Maryland’s DNA Collection Act (the “DNA Act”) authorizes law enforcement officers to collect DNA samples from a person who is arrested, but not yet convicted, for violent crimes or burglary.King v. State, 42 A.3d 549, 552 (Md. 2012). In 2009, Alonzo Jay King, Jr. was arrested in Maryland on first- and second-degree assault charges. Id. at 553. The DNA Act authorized collection of a DNA sample from King because assault is a violent crime. Id. at 553. On the day of King’s arrest, personnel at the booking facility swabbed King’s mouth to collect his DNA sample and sent it for processing. Id. When King’s DNA record was uploaded to the Maryland DNA database, it matched a DNA sample collected in an unrelated, unsolved 2003 rape case. Id. The police had collected the 2003 DNA sample from the rape victim who underwent a sexual assault forensic exam. 554. After a police detective presented the matching 2009 and 2003 DNA to a grand jury, the grand jury indicted King for first-degree rape. Id. Later in 2009, the detective obtained a search warrant and collected a second DNA sample from King that also matched the 2003 sample. Id. 

King sought to suppress the DNA evidence, arguing that his arrest and indictment for rape were invalid as an unreasonable search and seizure under the Fourth Amendment. King, 42 A.3d at 554. He claimed that the DNA Act was unconstitutional. Id. at 554. Alternatively, he claimed that even if the court decided the DNA Act was constitutional, the State failed to follow the DNA Act’s procedures when it collected his DNA because the State could not show that an approved person completed the collection or that it provided King with the required notice of the Act’s expungement provisions. Id. at 554-55. The Circuit Court for Wicomico County denied King’s motion to suppress, upholding the constitutionality of the DNA Act and finding that King failed to show evidence that the warrant for his second DNA sample was invalid or improperly obtained. Id. at 554-55. King was convicted of rape and sentenced to life in prison. Id. at 555. 

Before King could proceed with an appeal, the state’s highest court, the Court of Appeals of Maryland, issued a writ of certiorari to consider whether the trial court improperly denied King’s motion to suppress the DNA evidence. King, 42 A.3d at 555. It determined that the DNA Act, as it applied to King in this case, was unconstitutional because when the court weighed King’s right to the expectation of privacy against warrantless, suspicionless searches against the State’s interest in using his DNA to identify him for purposes of his 2009 arrest on assault charges, King’s privacy right was greater. Id. at 552, 556. According to the court, the State undertook two separate biological searches, first when it swabbed the inside of King’s mouth and second when it analyzed the DNA sample obtained from the swab. 575. The court reversed the trial court’s decision and determined that the improperly-acquired DNA evidence should have been suppressed at trial. Id. at 556. It also decided that the DNA Act was constitutional because even though it was inappropriately applied to King, there were conceivable circumstances in which a state would need to use DNA samples to identify but not investigate an individual arrested for a violent crime. Id. at 580. 

The Supreme Court granted Maryland’s petition for a writ of certiorari to determine whether the Fourth Amendment permits states to obtain and analyze the DNA of people arrested for but not yet convicted of violent crimes. Maryland v. King, No. 12-207, 133 S.Ct. 594 (Nov. 9, 2012).



Maryland advocates for the Supreme Court to reverse the Court of Appeals of Maryland and affirm its decision that the DNA Act does not violate the Fourth Amendment. See Brief for Petitioner, Maryland at 26. Maryland asserts that taking King’s DNA sample was a reasonable search because important governmental interests outweighed the minimal intrusiveness of DNA collection. See id. at 13, 21. In opposition, King argues that the lower court correctly found that Maryland performed an unreasonable search, in violation of the Fourth Amendment, when it collected and analyzed his DNA after his 2009 arrest for assault. See Brief for Respondent, Alonzo Jay King, Jr., at 18. King argues that the search was invalid because Maryland used his DNA not to link him to the crime for which he was arrested, but instead to investigate his connection to the 2003 rape, even though it had no reason to suspect his involvement. See id. at 22. 

DNA Evidence to Solve Crimes 

In support of Maryland, California and other states note that allowing DNA collection and analysis will resolve unsolved crimes and improve public safety. See Brief of Amici Curiae California, Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Puerto Rico, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin, Wyoming (the “States”) in Support of Petitioner at 5. The States reason that one challenge in law enforcement is solving crimes committed by unknown offenders. See id. Because statistics show that “arrestees are more likely than the general public to be repeat criminal offenders,” the States note that collecting DNA samples from arrestees will give police officers a reliable method for connecting the identities of new arrestees with evidence in unsolved crimes. See id. at 6. Further, DNA Saves, a group that educates and fundraises in support of laws authorizing forensic DNA sampling, notes that a DNA database offers an investigation tool by which the police may not only solve crimes but also identify and remove violent offenders from the general population, thereby preventing future crimes by repeat offenders. See Brief of Amici Curiae DNA Saves, Bring BRI Justice Foundation, Keep Georgia Save, the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, and the Surviving Parents Coalition (“DNA Saves”) in Support of Petitioner at 1-3, 9.

In opposition, King notes that when Maryland reasons that DNA collection is beneficial because arrestees are more likely than the general public to have committed other crimes, there is a risk of extending such reasoning too far. See Brief for Respondent at 51. King hypothesizes that the same could be said for other subgroups, for instance “young men, residents of particular neighborhoods, or individuals from particular socioeconomic or educational backgrounds—as long as it could be shown that those groups have a higher incidence of criminal activity.” Id. King concedes that while it may be tempting to allow DNA testing in his case because the DNA match helped solve a horrible rape, the Court should not permit Maryland to enforce its DNA Act for suspicionless, warrantless searches. See id. at 53. Enforcing the DNA Act, argues King, enables intrusion into individual privacy. See id.

DNA Evidence to Enhance Law Enforcement  

The Maryland Chiefs of Police Association argues that police officers with access to DNA data will more accurately manage detainees in their custody. See Brief of Amici Curiae Maryland Chiefs of Police Association, Inc., Maryland Sheriffs’ Association, Inc., Police Chiefs’ Association of Prince George’s County, Maryland, Inc., Maryland Municipal League, Inc., Police Executive Association, International Association of Chiefs of Police, Inc., Major Cities Chiefs Association, Mayor and City Council of Baltimore and Montgomery County, Maryland (“Maryland Chiefs”) in Support of Petitioner at 11. The Maryland Chiefs note that when an officer knows that an individual is suspected of committing another offense, the officer may more knowledgably determine whether to order detention pending trial or to segregate the suspect from other prisoners. See id. Further, the Maryland Chiefs contend that because DNA evidence helps police pursue successful investigations and convictions, the evidence boosts public confidence in law enforcement. See id. at 12.

In response, King argues that Maryland’s DNA Act gives considerable discretion to an arresting officer, giving him the option whether to charge defendants with offenses that qualify for DNA collection. See Brief for Respondent at 43. King notes, for instance, that had he been charged with only second-degree and not first-degree assault, he would not have been subject to DNA testing under the DNA Act. See id. Finding for Maryland, King contends, would give to law enforcement too much power to choose which people to search for involvement in unrelated crimes. See id. at 44.



The Supreme Court will determine whether the Fourth Amendment allows the States to collect and analyze DNA from people arrested and charged with serious crimes, but not yet convicted. See Petition for Writ of Certiorari, Maryland v. King, (2012) at i.The parties disagree about how the court must determine the constitutionality of a search under the Fourth Amendment. Brief for Petitioner, State of Maryland at 11; Brief for Respondent, Alonzo Jay King, Jr. at 19-20. Maryland argues that the court must evaluate a search by balancing an individual's privacy interests with the government's interests. Brief for Petitioner at 11. King argues that the court must begin with the presumption that warrantless, suspicionless searches violate the Fourth Amendment. Brief for Respondent at 20.


Maryland asserts argues that the Fourth Amendment prohibits unreasonable searches, but that its practice of collecting and analyzing DNA is reasonable under the Fourth Amendment. Brief for Petitioner at 11. The State argues that a search is reasonable if the government's interest in conducting the search outweighs the individual's privacy interests. The court must determine a search's reasonableness by balancing how much it intrudes on an individual's privacy interest with how much it advances government interests. Id.  Beyond this balancing, Maryland contends that the Fourth Amendment does not require the government to suspect an arrestee of having committed a particular crime. 12. The State claims that a search may be reasonable without a warrant or probable cause. 12. Moreover, Maryland contends that the Constitution does not require individualized suspicion before the government can conduct a search. Id. The State argues that  a search may still be reasonable without these requirements if the individual is still safeguarded by other protections. See id.  Indeed, the State contends that the court recognized this principle in Samson v. California, permitting the warrantless and suspicionless search of a parolee because the State's interest in reducing recidivism outweighed the parolee's lowered privacy expectations. Id. at 12-13; 547 U.S. 843 (2006). Here, Maryland claims that the balancing test permits the searches authorized by the DNA Collection Act,See Brief for Petitionerat 13. and that King had reduced privacy expectations because of his status as an arrestee.  Brief for Petitionerat 17.

King argues that Maryland's Fourth Amendment analysis is backwards. Brief for Respondent at 38.  King asserts that the court must presume that the state cannot conduct a search without individualized suspicion. Id. at 39. Only if the government justifies an exception to the rule, King argues, should the court engage in balancing. Id.Otherwise, King claims, the Fourth Amendment would be reduced to “an after-the-fact protection for individual liberties.” Id.Here, King asserts that Maryland conducted a search by obtaining and analyzing a cheek swab from King. Id. at 18. The search triggered Fourth Amendment protection, King argues, and the search was presumptively unreasonable because Maryland did not have a warrant and or probable cause. See id. at 19-21. King contends that the state had no reason to believe that its DNA analysis would link him to the sexual assault for which he was later charged. Id. at 21. Thus, he claims that Maryland also failed to meet the Court's lower standard of reasonable suspicion. See id.


Maryland argues that its practice of collecting and analyzing DNA minimally intrudes on arrestees' privacy interests. Brief for Petitioner at 13. The State claims that a cheek swab is a minor physical intrusion, and more importantly, that once an individual is arrested and in the state's custody, he has reduced privacy expectations. See id. at 14, 17. Thus, Maryland asserts that its searches under the DNA Collection Act are valid because they only reveal an arrestee's identity “as expressed by a short and essentially random sequence of numbers.” 16. Moreover, the State contends that arrest eliminates a person's expectation of remaining anonymous. Id. at 18. The State claims that the court has denied the right to anonymity for people stopped by police on the street and subpoenaed by a grand jury, so the right cannot exist for someone lawfully arrested for committing a serious crime. 19.

King responds that conviction, not arrest, transforms a person's expectation of privacy. Brief for Respondent at 24. King argues that in Samson, the court recognized an exception to the individualized suspicion requirement because parolees have a reduced expectation of privacy. 23-24. King asserts that the reduced expectation of privacy applies to those who have been imprisoned or released but still under state supervision. 24. To the contrary, King notes that he was merely arrested. Id.He concedes that court has permitted various searches incident to arrest, but that this doctrine has never justified suspicionless searches for unrelated offenses. See id. at 25. 


Maryland argues that its searches under the DNA Collection Act are justified by important government interests. Brief for Petitioner at 21. The State claims that DNA analysis advances the state's interest in accurately identifying the individuals in its custody. Id.To that end, the State asserts that DNA analysis is simply the “gold standard of forensic identification.” Id. at 22. Maryland also claims that DNA analysis enables it to solve crimes more efficiently. See id. at 23. The State argues that DNA analysis saves the state resources by narrowing the field of suspects, and allows the state to identify suspects more accurately and reduce the risk of letting a criminal go free. Id.  Moreover, the state contends that expanding DNA collection to arrestees is a reasonable choice because a small fraction of the population is responsible for an overwhelming majority of crimes. See 24. Thus, Maryland argues that collecting DNA from arrestees is reasonable because they are more likely to be repeat offenders. See id.   Lastly, the State points to the facts of this case to justify its DNA collection practice. Id. at 25. The State claims that without the DNA Collection Act, which authorized the cheek swab from King, the police would not have connected King to the sexual assault for which he was ultimately charged. Seeid. 

King maintains that the court should not determine reasonableness by balancing interests. Brief for Respondent at 19-20.  Still, King argues that his privacy interests outweigh the government’s interests. Id. at 45. King asserts intrusions into the body are at least as significant as other realms protected by the Fourth Amendment, including the home. Id. Moreover, King contends that DNA analysis implicates serious privacy concerns. Id.He argues that DNA analysis can lead to information about a person’s medical history and even their age, ethnicity, intelligence, and “propensity for violence and addiction.” Id.King acknowledges the state’s interest in solving and preventing crimes, but argues that the government may only collect and analyze DNA of arrestees under two circumstances: (i) once they are convicted; and (ii) where the collection would aid law enforcement in connecting the arrestee to the crime of arrest. See id. at 48. King argues that his case falls outside these two categories and that the state has not otherwise shown how DNA collection aids its interest in solving crimes. Seeid. at 49.



In this case, the Court will determine whether states may collect and analyze DNA from arrestees after they have been charged with a serious crime, but not yet convicted. The Court’s decision will turn on its interpretation of the Fourth Amendment’s protection against unreasonable searches and seizures. While Maryland’s DNA Collection Act previously survived Fourth Amendment scrutiny when the law authorized DNA collection of convicted felons, the Court now evaluates the practice when applied to arrestees. This case has important consequences for understanding the nature of Fourth Amendment protection, and the relationship between individual liberties and the use of modern technology to aid law enforcement.



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