The Maryland Supreme Court ruled last week that taking the DNA of a criminal suspect is a violation of the 4th Amendment protection against unreasonable searches and seizures. But, despite this high court ruling, law enforcement agencies across the state are continuing to collect the genetic information without a warrant.
According to the Baltimore Sun, agencies including the state Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services (who also collect DNA for Howard County and Baltimore City), and police officials in Anne Arundel and Baltimore Counties are among those sticking to their guns, waiting to see whether or not the state will appeal the ruling before making any changes.
Currently, DNA samples are collected when you are arrested for a criminal offense. This DNA is run through a database to see whether or not your genetic sequence can match you to any other unsolved crimes. Then it is stored indefinitely in the database.
So far, in the three years the DNA database has been utilized, it has resulted in 65 arrests and 34 convictions in cold cases, according to the governor’s office. For those law enforcement agencies resisting the high court ruling, this is evidence enough that the practice should be continued.
“The DNA database is critically important for all public safety agencies, as it not only helps solve crimes of violence, but also eliminates suspects who may have been erroneously accused,” said Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake.
But not everyone is convinced the public safety aspect is reason enough to ignore the Constitutional protection of the 4th Amendment.
“I think the U.S. Supreme Court would rule in a similar fashion,” remarked one local defense lawyer in speaking with the Baltimore Sun. “You have to have a warrant, point blank, end of discussion. Before you take my DNA, you have to have a warrant for that as well. You have a lot of innocent people who are constantly being violated.”
The 4th Amendment protects all citizens against unreasonable searches and seizures. It’s in this amendment that we find justification for warrants being required in arrests and searches. Anytime law enforcement wishes to search you or seize evidence they must have a warrant or exigent circumstances, meaning crucial evidence could be lost or additional crimes committed if they have to wait for a warrant. DNA collection should be no difference.
If there is enough justification to collect the DNA of someone, getting a warrant shouldn’t be a problem. But, to collect DNA from every arrestee or even every violent suspect without a warrant and before they have had access to the due process of the courts, seems to be a clear violation of the constitutional protections, and the state supreme court agrees.
When you are accused of a crime, even when the cops think it’s a “slam dunk,” even if you confess, you are still protected by the Constitution. You still have rights.
Contact us today to discuss your rights and your options when facing criminal charges.