Maryland v. King: Possibly The Most Important Criminal Procedure Case in Decades


Many Supreme Court observers, including no less than Justice Samuel Alito himself, have described Maryland v. King as perhaps the most important criminal procedure case that the Court has decided in decades. While this may well be true, the question presented to the Court was actually quite simple: Is the warrantless collection of DNA from arrestees unreasonable under the Fourth Amendment? In answering that question in the negative, the Court arguably did nothing more than apply the plain text of the Fourth Amendment to an increasingly common fact of modern law enforcement life—the collection of DNA. However, the 5-4 split among the Justices suggests that the majority’s conclusion was not so obvious to everyone. Nevertheless, it seems that, all things considered, the majority got it right.

I. Case Background -

In 2003, a stranger concealing his identity broke into the home of a woman in Maryland and raped her. She quickly reported the attack, submitted to a rape exam, and a DNA sample was obtained, analyzed, and entered into the Maryland state DNA database. No match was immediately found. Several years later, in 2009, one Alonzo King was arrested in Maryland on assault charges unrelated to the 2003 rape. Pursuant to Maryland law, a sample of his DNA was taken by means of a cheek, or buccal, swab. That DNA sample was also analyzed and entered into the Maryland database, and was found to match the sample from the 2003 rape investigation. After a Maryland grand jury indicted King on rape charges, he pled not guilty, and eventually moved the trial court to suppress from evidence the results of his post-arrest DNA sampling. That motion was denied and King was ultimately convicted of the rape.

Engage: Volume 14, Issue 3 - October 2013.

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