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Does the Fourth Amendment permit DNA collection from arrestees?

A case that is currently before the United States Supreme Court could potentially affect New Jersey’s law regarding the collection of DNA evidence. Specifically, the case questions whether the Fourth Amendment allows states to collect and analyze DNA from people arrested and charged with serious crimes.

According to South Jersey Times, approximately 25 states and the federal government have passed laws that require DNA collection upon arrest for certain felonies. In August 2011, New Jersey passed legislation, which permitted DNA to be collected and cataloged from those arrested for violent crimes, including murder or sexual assault. However, the Supreme Court’s ruling in Maryland v. King could question the constitutionality of New Jersey’s legislation.

Maryland v. King: DNA links suspect to a separate crime

A suspect was arrested for felony aggravated assault in April 2009. Upon arrest, a sample of his DNA was collected. In July 2009, the DNA was analyzed through the Combined DNA Index System, and the database linked the suspect to a 2003 home invasion and rape.

The suspect was convicted of a misdemeanor in the original assault charge. However, due to the DNA match, he was subsequently convicted of rape for the 2003 attack. The man was sentenced to life without parole.

Defendant appeals conviction

Maryland had a law similar to New Jersey’s 2011 directive. When the defendant appealed his rape conviction in King, the Maryland Court of Appeals overturned the state law, noting the Fourth Amendment’s protection against unreasonable searches and seizures prohibits those not convicted of violent crimes from having their DNA samples taken and cataloged for future use.

Significance of King

As New Jersey’s law stands, to permit the state’s collection of DNA, a person need only be suspected of a violent crime. However, the argument in King suggests that this may be a violation of constitutional safeguards provided under the Fourth Amendment.

At this point, the Maryland Court of Appeals is in agreement with the defendant. However, an associate professor of law at Rutgers notes, “DNA evidence […] is clearly the most reliable of any kind of evidence the courts get.” He adds, “It makes it extremely valuable to police and prosecutors. And extremely valuable to defendants, too.”

Ultimately, the Supreme Court will need to balance the continued interests of public safety with criminal justice rights. If the Court rules in favor of the defendant, this will make several state laws unconstitutional.

If you have been charged with a serious crime, it is important that your rights are honored and upheld. A qualified criminal law attorney can help you assert your constitutional protections.

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