A Moment of Judicial Sanity on DNA Forensics

Posted by Osagie Obasogie June 13, 2012
Biopolitical Times
Those of you familiar with HBO’s critically acclaimed series The Wire know that the Baltimore police department will stop at nothing – even making up a fake serial killer – to get their guy. However, it seems like the real world Baltimore police will have one less tool at their disposal. The Maryland Court of Appeals recently ruled that collecting DNA samples upon arrest is unconstitutional – a decision that runs counter to many other states’ decisions to expand their DNA databases through such tactics.

Politicians across the country have spearheaded initiatives to push laws through state legislatures that allow police to collect DNA from not only convicts but those merely arrested for certain crimes – even misdemeanors. The purpose of these efforts is to increase the number of known samples that can be run against unknown profiles from crime scenes that already exists in forensic databases in an attempt to solve cold cases. But, the Maryland Court of Appeals has put a stop to this for now, holding that this practice raises serious issues concerning individuals’ 4th Amendment right against unreasonable searches and seizure. The court did note an exception:
Although we have some trepidation as to the facial constitutionality of the DNA act, as to arrestees generally, we cannot exclude the possibility that there may be, in some circumstances, a need for the state to obtain a DNA sample to identify an arrestee accurately.

Predictably, Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley was not happy with this decision. O’Malley, a Democrat, continued to recite a script from the now tired politicians’ playbook, noting that “When we increase the library of DNA samples in our state, we solve more crimes. . . . We take more criminals off the streets more quickly and put them in jail for a longer period of time so that they cannot murder, rape or harm other citizens among us."

The Court’s decision is certainly a step in the right direction; as many have noted, DNA samples from people not convicted of a crime do not belong in police DNA databases. More pushback from the judiciary on the idea that “more is better” when it comes to DNA databases is gravely needed and past due. However, don’t expect this to be the last word, as an appeal is sure to follow.

Previously on Biopolitical Times: