Challenge to Maryland police DNA procedures

A Maryland appellate court is considering whether police should destroy voluntarily-given DNA samples if suspects are cleared, rather than keeping them.

On April 10, 2014, a Maryland appellate court heard an appeal by a man convicted of burglary who argued that the state improperly held a sample of his DNA and used that to convict him. The court's decision in the case will have important implications for how police handle DNA samples in the future.

Appealing burglary conviction

The 46-year-old Arundel County man was convicted of burglary partially because of DNA evidence found on a soda can at the scene of the crime. He had previously given police a DNA sample voluntarily when he was a suspect in a rape investigation in 2012. The police did not link him to the rape, but later on they did tie him to a 2008 burglary of a business that remained unsolved. Police retain DNA samples that people give voluntarily, rather than destroying the samples, so they can use them in future investigations. However, the man argued that since he was not charged in the rape case, police should have gotten rid of his DNA sample. He claimed that retaining the sample was a violation of his constitutional rights.

U.S. Supreme Court case about DNA

This case is not the first time that police DNA procedures have been examined by the courts. In the 2013 case Maryland v. King, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that police could obtain DNA samples from people arrested for "serious" crimes as part of routine booking procedures. The man appealing his conviction in that case argued that police violated his constitutional rights by taking his DNA when he was arrested for burglary and was later convicted of rape based on the DNA sample. The Court reasoned that the DNA samples are no more invasive than taking fingerprints or mug shots, so these samples do not violate people's rights.

The statute at issue in King however, requires police to discard samples of those who are arrested who are later cleared of crimes. Those who give DNA voluntarily, like the man in the case before the appellate court, do not have the same protections that the statute affords those who have DNA taken when arrested. Many argue that those who cooperate with police investigations should not be penalized by having their DNA permanently on file with police.

Protect your rights

Police often disregard people's constitutional rights when investigating crimes, as Maryland police DNA policies demonstrate. It is critical for those who are facing criminal charges to have a skilled criminal defense attorney fighting for them and defending their rights. If you are facing criminal charges, talk to a seasoned criminal defense lawyer who can ensure that your rights are protected.

Keywords: criminal law; DNA samples; constitutional rights