Maryland v. King: Open Up for Royal Inspection


A mouth swab will soon be as common as a mug shot. In a controversial 5-4 ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that taking a DNA sample during police booking for serious offenses is reasonable under the Fourth Amendment.

The Supreme Court’s DNA ruling will undoubtedly make it easier for police to solve cold cases, but has also drawn the ire of privacy rights groups. Critics of the decision have rallied around Justice Antonin Scalia’s strongly worded dissent, in which he stated, “I doubt that the proud men who wrote the charter of our liberties would have been so eager to open their mouths for royal inspection.”

The Facts of the Case

In 2009, Alonzo King was arrested and charged with first- and second-degree assault for menacing a group of people with a shotgun. As part of routine booking procedures for serious offenses under the Maryland DNA Collection Act, King’s DNA sample was taken by applying a cotton swab to the inside of his cheeks. The DNA was found to match the DNA taken from a rape victim. King was tried and convicted for the rape.

The Court of Appeals of Maryland, on review of King's rape conviction, ruled that the DNA taken when King was booked for the 2009 charge was an unlawful seizure because obtaining and using the cheek swab was an unreasonable search of the person. It set the rape conviction aside.

The Supreme Court’s Decision

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DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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