Maryland v. King

Posted: January 25, 2015 by beguide in case summaries, Criminal Procedure, Right to Privacy, Technology


WHAT HAPPENED: King was arrested under suspicion of a generally horrible crime; and at the time of his arrest, the Maryland police took a DNA sample without a warrant. The DNA sample was used to link King to the crime and then later used to convict King of the crime.

WHY IS THIS BEFORE THE SUPREME COURT: Sadly, the Court did not review this case to pat the Maryland police on the back for effective police work. The DNA sample was taken pursuant to a Maryland law that allowed police to take DNA samples upon arrest without a warrant, provided that the sample was destroyed shortly after. King argued that taking the sample was a 4th amendment violation, since the police were seizing King’s genetic material without a warrant.

WHAT ARE THE RAMIFICATIONS OF THIS DECISION: The decision would stand to either benefit or hinder police work in lieu of current developments in genetics and DNA testing. As science continues to develop regarding our ability to use DNA in connecting or exonerating accused defendants, the King case stood to balance the 4th Amendment against an effective way of linking defendants to crimes.

WHAT WAS THE RULING: The Court ruled 5-4 in favor of the State of Maryland and upheld King’s conviction. The majority opinion was written by Justice Kennedy, who stated that the parameters of the law which had safeguards that would ensure that the search was nominally intrusive was reasonable in light of the benefit it would provide to police.  In balancing the interests of both sides, Kennedy stated that the nominal intrusion of the DNA test was outweighed by the benefit given to law enforcement. The dissent was written by Justice Scalia, who held that the Maryland statute was an unequivocal violation of the 4th Amendment, as it permitted police to search highly private information without a warrant or probable cause. In a style that is commonly described as “scathing”, Scalia read his opinion aloud and warned that the Court was allowing the police to collect your DNA into a national database, regardless of the arrest.

THE GOOD GUYS WON IF YOU: have had any practical experience with the criminal justice system.

THE BAD GUYS WON IF YOU: you a Supreme Court justice who loves literal reads of the Constitution, fiery rhetoric, and 1984 Big Brother conspiracy theories.

WHO WAS RIGHT: This decision predated the podcast by about two years, so let’s say we were both right.


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