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Supreme Court to determine constitutionality of DNA samples for arrestees

Is it a violation of your constitutional rights for law enforcement to take a sample of your DNA if you are arrested-but not convicted-for a serious offense? The United States Supreme Court recently heard arguments in a case, Maryland v. King that will decide this issue, possibly significantly changing the state of criminal defense law.

The decision may also affect the law as it stands in Texas. More than half the states in addition to Texas require suspects to provide DNA samples if they are indicted for certain felonies. The Supreme Court decision will decide whether this is permissible under the Fourth Amendment, which protects against unreasonable searches and seizures.

Events of the case

The case began when Alonzo King, Jr. was arrested in 2009 and charged with first and second-degree assault. Under Maryland's law, which is similar to Texas' law, the police took a sample of his DNA. King eventually admitted to the crime and was convicted of assault, a misdemeanor offense that did not require the police to take a sample of his DNA under the law.

Despite being convicted of a misdemeanor, King's DNA was later entered into a database. The database came back with a match, suggesting his involvement in a rape and robbery case that happened six years earlier. Because of the match, the police obtained a search warrant to collect another DNA sample from King. Once they had confirmed that the DNA matched the robbery and rape suspect, they charged King with the crime.

At the trial, King's attorneys unsuccessfully asked the court to exclude the DNA evidence of the rape and robbery. Upon appeal, the Maryland Court of Appeals reversed the trial court's decision. It held that DNA collection for the assault charge was unconstitutional, as King was merely arrested for, but not convicted of a felony. The appeals court held that the privacy rights of suspects, who had not yet been convicted, outweighed the state's interest in identifying perpetrators of crimes, by taking DNA samples from arrestees.

The prosecution appealed the case to the United States Supreme Court, which will have the final say. The court is expected to issue a decision this spring.

An attorney can help

In Texas, a person indicted of certain felonies must provide a DNA sample to law enforcement. Although the law also requires law enforcement to destroy the DNA sample if the suspect is later acquitted, the King decision could still affect the current law. If the Supreme Court finds that requiring arrestees to submit a DNA sample is unconstitutional, it would likely invalidate the corresponding part of Texas' DNA collection law as well.

In addition, the decision may halt efforts that are currently underway in the Texas Legislature to broaden the law to require those arrested for certain misdemeanors to provide a DNA sample as well.

If you have been arrested for a felony or serious crime, you face a significant loss of your freedom. Contact an experienced Texas criminal defense attorney, to ensure that your rights are protected every step of the way.