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DNA evidence and privacy rights: looking at a recent court decision, P.1

In our last post, we spoke very generally about privacy rights in criminal cases and the importance of working with an experienced attorney to scrutinize police work for possible Fourth Amendment violations. As we noted, privacy rights can come up in a number of ways in criminal cases, and one is how the Fourth Amendment interacts with DNA evidence.

Obviously DNA evidence can be very powerful in criminal cases. When it is legally obtained, it can provide prosecutors with an essential key to securing a conviction. The key is that it must be obtained legally. Since 2013, it has been legal to collect DNA evidence from a criminal suspect as part of a booking procedure, provided the arrest was for a felony offense. 

Maryland v. King, the decision which legalized DNA sampling for felony suspects, held that taking and analyzing a cheek swab of the arrestee’s DNA is like fingerprinting or photographing, and can be part of a legitimate booking procedure which is reasonable under the Fourth Amendment. After that decision, a debate ensued as to whether states could keep DNA evidence indefinitely for use in unrelated police investigation work. The question is essentially whether the state can continue to use DNA evidence at its discretion, even in unrelated criminal cases.

Last week, the Maryland Supreme Court ruled in a case that raised the issue of the use of DNA evidence in unrelated crimes. In our next post, we’ll take a look at this decision and what it means for criminal defendants

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