In a major victory for law enforcement agencies, the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday ruled that police can take a DNA sample from someone who has been arrested and charged but not convicted of a crime.
By a 5-4 vote the court reversed a decision last April by Maryland's highest court that overturned the 2010 conviction and life sentence of Alonzo Jay King for a rape committed seven years earlier.
The court, in an opinion written by Justice Anthony Kennedy, handed a victory to the state of Maryland by saying taking of DNA samples was similar to taking fingerprints
DNA samples can be taken if police have probable cause to detain a suspect facing charges relating to a serious offense, Kennedy said.
Taking a sample using a swab of the cheek is "like fingerprinting and photographing, a legitimate police booking procedure," Kennedy said.
King's right under the U.S. Constitutional Fourth Amendment to be free from unreasonable search and seizure had therefore not been violated, he added.
Like fingerprints, DNA is used for identification, and is not by itself evidence of a crime, Kennedy said. There is a legitimate government interest in knowing the identity of the person arrested, he added.
Justice Antonin Scalia, a conservative, joined three liberal justices in dissenting from the decision.
The Maryland court had concluded that King's Fourth Amendment rights were violated when he was required to provide his DNA upon being arrested.
Under Maryland law, samples can be taken from anyone arrested for a serious offense without police needing to get a warrant. Police can then submit those samples to a national database to see if the suspect is linked with any other crimes.
Monday's ruling will leave that law and others like it around the nation intact.
The case focused purely on samples taken after a suspect is arrested and charged with a crime, but not convicted of it.
Samples taken from convicted felons are routinely submitted to the national database and that practice was not an issue in the case.
Every other state in the country, plus the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, signed on to a brief in support of Maryland's position.
The case is Maryland v. King, U.S. Supreme Court, No. 207.
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