DNA debate takes over Maryland, affects felony case procedure

Before a recent ruling specifically prompted by a Maryland assault and rape case, criminal suspects in the state likely would have had to submit more than their fingerprints following an arrest. Those arrested for felony charges would have had their DNA taken and put into a database.

That means that if someone were arrested for one violent crime, for example, their DNA could match them up to a past crime and result in a further charge. Keep in mind, the DNA collection would take place before a criminal conviction, when a person is a mere suspect and considered innocent in the eyes of the system. That controversial point of the process moved Maryland’s Court of Appeals to prohibit law enforcement from collecting DNA from mere criminal suspects.

In 2009, a man was arrested for assault in Maryland. Going ahead with what was the standard process at the time, officials collected the suspect’s DNA. The test connected the assault suspect to a rape that occurred years before. As you can imagine, that meant an escalation in the criminal trouble that the defendant faced. But the high court’s recent decision that DNA collection shouldn’t be an automatic part of any felony arrest changes things for the defendant and other potential criminal defendants in the state.

Opponents of the premature DNA collection argue that the swabbing process is more invasive than the fingerprinting process. DNA collection is a violation of a person’s right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures while they are still only a suspect in a criminal case. The state court agreed with that argument, but those who support collection DNA from arrestees have suggested that they plan to take the matter to the U.S. Supreme Court.

This is a controversial topic and an important one. The system always is in a fight for balance between fostering an effective criminal process and an ethical process as well. If there is an update in this matter, we will keep you informed.

Source: CBS 6, “Is collecting the DNA from felony arrestees unconstitutional?” Raymond Hawkes and Mark Holmberg, May 18, 2012

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