Maryland v. King

RESPONDENT: Alonzo Jay King, Jr.
LOCATION: Maryland State Police, Forensic Services Division

DOCKET NO.: 12-207
DECIDED BY: Roberts Court (2010-2016)
LOWER COURT: Maryland Court of Appeals

CITATION: 569 US (2013)
GRANTED: Nov 09, 2012
ARGUED: Feb 26, 2013
DECIDED: Jun 03, 2013

Kannon K. Shanmugam - for the respondent
Katherine Winfree - for the petitioner
Michael R. Dreeben - Deputy Solicitor General, Department of Justice, for the United States as amicus curiae, supporting the petitioner

Facts of the case

The Maryland DNA Collection Act (MDCA) allows state and local law enforcement officers to collect DNA samples from individuals who are arrested for a crime of violence, an attempted crime of violence, burglary, or attempted burglary. Alonzo Jay King, Jr. was arrested on first and second degree assault charges. While under arrest, but prior to conviction, King's DNA was collected and logged in Maryland's DNA database. That database matched King's DNA to a DNA sample from an unsolved rape case. This sample was the only evidence linking King to the rape. The trial judge denied King's motion to suppress the DNA evidence and he was convicted of first-degree rape and sentenced to life in prison.

King appealed the conviction, arguing that the MDCA was an unconstitutional infringement of his Fourth Amendment privilege against warrantless searches. The Court of Appeals of Maryland reversed, holding that the MDCA was unconstitutional. The court held that King's expectation of privacy was greater than Maryland's interest in using the DNA for identification purposes.


Does the Fourth Amendment allow states to collect and analyze DNA from people arrested, but not convicted, of serious crimes?

Media for Maryland v. King

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - June 03, 2013 (Part 1) in Maryland v. King
Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - February 26, 2013 in Maryland v. King

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - June 03, 2013 (Part 2) in Maryland v. King

Antonin Scalia:

I'll describe that dissenting opinion.

The Court's opinion barely mentions the crucial fact about this case.

The search here was entirely suspicionless.

The police had no reason at all to believe that King's DNA would link him to any crime.

In approving that suspicion a search, the Court has cast aside a bedrock rule of our Fourth Amendment law that the government may not search its citizens for evidence of crime unless there is reasonable cause to believe that such evidence will be found.

The men who wrote and ratified that amendment had come to know well what it was like to live under a regime that did not obey this principle.

Whenever we have allowed suspicionless searches, we have insisted upon a justifying motive apart from mere investigation of crime.

Our cases call those exceptional searches special needs searches, an example being the drug testing of train engineers for public safety purposes.

It is perfectly obvious that no special need, no non-investigative motive justified the swabbing of King's cheek.

The purpose was to learn whether King had committed an unsolved crime.

A fact the Court does mention often is that King was under arrest when his DNA was taken, but that is quite irrelevant.

The state's accusations do not suddenly render a man stranger to the Fourth Amendment.

And the limited circumstances in which we have permitted searches of arrestees do not support what the Court does today.

The fact of an arrest will allow a brief search for weapons, but that is a type of a special need search, a matter of officer's safety, not crime solving.

And if the police believe that an arrestee has evidence relevant to his crime of arrest, they may search him for it, but that is not a suspicionless search.

We have never held, however, that arrestees maybe subjected to general suspicionless searches simply because that would be useful to solve unrelated crimes.

That is a terrifying principle, too much in the end even for today's majority.

So after genuflecting to King's arrestee status, the Court dedicates nearly all of its opinion to a different argument.

King's DNA was taken, we are told, to identify him.

That assertion taxes the credulity of the credulous unless what the Court means is that taking King's DNA identified him in the sense of enabling the police to learn what crimes he had committed before.

But that sort of identification is just another way of describing the police's ordinary interest in solving crimes which is never enough to permit a suspicionless search.

We would never, for example, permit the police to search every lawfully stopped car in hopes of turning up evidence of unrelated crimes.

But doing so, would identify the driver in the question-begging sense the Court uses the word today, that is in the sense that it would tell whether he was committing or had committed some other crimes.

In the ordinary sense of the term identification, the sense in which we all use it, the DNA search here did not and could not have identified King for a host of reasons.

First, the Maryland statute forbids it.

It sets forth several permissible purposes for DNA testing, chief among them being investigation of crime, but while it permits DNA testing to identify missing persons and to identity human remains, it nowhere mentions identification of arrestees.

Moreover, under Maryland law, the DNA testing cannot even begin until the arrestees' first appearance in court which makes a hash out of the Court's theory that DNA could be used to set bail and once the testing does begin it is far too slow to be used for identification.

It took months to process King's DNA sample.

By the time, and not because of some mistake, it typically takes months in Maryland.

By the time it was done, his first trial was nearly over and the case was titled State versus King, not State versus John Doe.