Is collecting the DNA from felony arrestees unconstitutional?

Posted at 11:44 PM, May 18, 2012
and last updated 2012-05-18 23:44:21-04

RICHMOND, Va (WTVR)- Maryland’s highest court has stopped authorities from collecting DNA samples from felony arrestees after lawyers for a convicted rapist successfully argued the common practice is unconstitutional.

The case: Alonzo Jay King Jr. was arrested in Maryland on a serious assault charge in 2009. Maryland law allowed for felony arrestees to have their DNA collected, and King was nailed for the 2003 rape of a woman in her Salisbury home.

His attorneys successfully argued that collecting his DNA violated his Fourth Amendment right to be free of unreasonable searches and seizures. On Tuesday, Maryland’s highest court blocked the collecting of DNA swabs from arrestees before they’re convicted.

This isn’t the first time the arrestee DNA practice has been challenged, but it may become the first time it’s tested in the US Supreme Court.

A third of U.S. states allow felony arrestees to be have their DNA collected.

Virginia was a pioneer in the DNA database and passed the first laws that enabled the testing of criminals, and later, those arrested for certain types of crimes.

The arrestee law was challenged here and upheld, as it has been in the eastern and northern districts of California,  the western district of New York and in Colorado.

Maryland now joins Minnesota in overturning the law.

Some courts, in upholding the practice, say it’s no more invasive than collecting fingerprints, which has been going on for the better part of a century.

For Kent Willis with the Virginia ACLU, it’s  “an invasion of your personal space that goes beyond something like fingerprinting. You literally have to open your mouth and you’re losing a piece of your body. There’s also a slippery slope argument here. One of the concerns that civil liberties groups have is that the increasing use of collecting DNA from individuals will continue to the point where we simply take the DNA of everybody once they’re born.”

There’s no question, the database of arrestee DNA has been  effective. Since Virginia has began testing arrestees in 2003, they’ve had 700 matches to crimes.

Supporters also point out that the DNA databank  has cleared many people of crimes or suspicion of crimes.

They say it’s colorblind and doesn’t care about ethnicity or class.

And they point to the case of Chester Turner, a Los Angeles pizza deliveryman who was arrested 21 times over 15 years, but never convicted of a crime serious enough to allow for testing. Once he was finally convicted of a rape, his DNA was tested and he was connected to 12 murdered and raped women. Many of them would’ve been spared if he had been tested as an arrestee.

In a country that stands on the principle that you’re innocent until proven guilty, should you have to spit to provide evidence of your innocence – or guilt?