“I think this is perhaps the most important criminal procedure case that this court has heard in decades,” Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. said.
The response came in on Tuesday, a reaction to the US Supreme Court’s current debate over whether or not police officers can take DNA samples from suspects they’ve arrested.
Maryland v. King No. 12-207, the case open before the court today was built from a 2009 event in Wicomico County, MD. DNA was obtained from Alonzo Jay King Jr. after he was incarcerated on assault charges. After running his DNA through the system, King’s sample also matched evidence collected from a 2003 rape. He was subsequently convicted of that crime.
Last April, Maryland’s Court of Appeals ruled against authorizing DNA collection those arrested –but not yet convicted. According to the new state law, this preemptive practice violates the rights the 4th Amendment guarantees – probable cause.
Justice Alito argues it’s worth the compromise: “This is what is at stake: Lots of murders, lots of rapes that can be solved using this new technology that involves a very minimal intrusion on personal privacy.”
But, Alito’s leanings are not indicative of how the court will rule. For Justice Antonin Scalia this is not so cut-and-dried. “I’ll bet you if you conducted a lot of unreasonable searches and seizures, you’d get more convictions, too. That proves absolutely nothing.”
Scalia spoke in the context of hearing that Maryland had obtained 42 convictions based on DNA from people arrested there.
Collecting DNA from people convicted of crimes is not the issue in today’s case. The question is, rather, whether sampling DNA before trail infringes on US constitutional rights.
Chief justice, Elena Kagan, appeared apprehensive of going too far, too fast. “Why don’t we do this for everybody who comes in for a driver’s license because it’s very effective?” she asked hypothetically.
There must be legal limits saying an arrest would not justify the search of an individual’s home for “possible evidence of an unrelated crime.”
Practically speaking, the major question the court is working to answer is one of technology. Is DNA this century’s fingerprint?
Several justices seemed interested in using DNA evidence to assist America’s judges in bail sentencing. For now, they were told lab turnaround times are too long to make that a deciding factor.