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DNA ruling blocked, for now (UPDATED)

UPDATED Friday 3:55 p.m.  Attorneys for the Maryland man involved in the case, Alonzo Jay King, Jr., on Friday filed their brief opposing any further hold on the state court ruling.  It was filed in advance of the deadline set by the Chief Justice.  In arguing against a stay, King’s attorneys argued that the state had used faulty statistical data to justify its application for delay, had exaggerated the impact on law enforcement, had overstated the degree of dispute among lower courts, and had left out the fact that the Maryland law at issue is due to expire at the end of 2013, so the case is going to lose its significance.


Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr., on Wednesday put on hold temporarily a Maryland state court ruling that barred police from collecting DNA samples from individuals they arrest, who have not yet been convicted.  The Roberts order will remain in effect for at least a week, to give the individual involved in the case a chance to file a response.  The case is Maryland v. King, and it appears to have a good chance of gaining review by the Justices next Term because lower courts are split on the issue.

State officials had asked for a delay of the Maryland Court of Appeals decision until the Supreme Court reviewed it.  They argued that the decision “has resulted in the loss of a valuable crime-fighting tool relied upon by Maryland.”  In addition, they said, the controversy over the issue “has interfered with the efforts of other states to use DNA evidence to prosecute crimes within their own borders.”

Although the Chief Justice’s order is only temporary, the fact that he issued it while the briefing unfolds is a strong indication that the decision probably will be blocked further, perhaps until after the Justices have disposed of the case in a final way — either by granting review and deciding it, or by denying review.  A denial seems unlikely, given the conflicting results among lower courts.

The blog carried a full story on the Maryland case in this post.   The story provides a link to the state court’s decision.

The Maryland court had upheld the state’s DNA sampling law in 2004, but only as it applied to those who had already been convicted of serious crimes.  But, in a ruling this past April, the court found that the law could not be applied in the specific case of a Wicomico County man, Alonzo Jay King, Jr., and thus overturned his conviction for rape.  The conviction had depended heavily upon a link to him provided by a DNA sample taken after his arrest earlier for a separate assault case.  The state court refused to bar the use of the law in all circumstances, saying there might be situations in which a sample could be validly used when an arrested person’s identity might be in question.

The state court found that arrested individuals have a higher level of privacy than those who have actually been convicted, and that the sample was not necessary to identify King.  It found that DNA sampling was more intrusive than, say, taking fingerprints.

In asking the Chief Justice to block that decision, Maryland officials argued that “there is, quite simply, no coherent Fourth Amendment basis for distinguishing the collection of DNA as a forensic identifier from the collection of fingerprints,” or several other forms of “biometric information.”   The stay application (12A48) added that “the Fourth Amendment does not convey a right of anonymity after arrest.”


Recommended Citation: Lyle Denniston, DNA ruling blocked, for now (UPDATED), SCOTUSblog (Jul. 20, 2012, 11:14 AM),