In a Maryland case that has the attention of the U.S. Justice Department and the national science community, the Supreme Court tomorrow hears arguments over whether to restrict police in collecting DNA to solve crimes, the Baltimore Sun reports. The justices will rule on a common police practice: taking genetic information from individuals arrested — but not convicted — to link them to unsolved crimes. The court has acknowledged the power of DNA but has not allowed it to run afoul of fundamental American rights such as the Fourth Amendment's protection against unreasonable searches.
The Baltimore-based Office of the Public Defender, representing Alonzo King, contends that taking DNA from a person before a conviction tramples on the constitutional promise to be protected from warrantless searches. Maryland Attorney General Douglas Gansler argues that, once arrested for a crime, an individual is not entitled to the same expectation of privacy. "There is a great deal at stake," Gansler said. "The use of DNA has really become commonplace in criminal investigations since the O.J. Simpson case. University of Baltimore law Prof. Colin Starger said allowing police to collect DNA samples in the name of solving crimes opens up the potential for the government's systematic invasion of privacy and the risk of exacerbating inherent racial and socioeconomic inequities in American criminal justice. African-Americans made up 60 percent of the individuals for whom DNA was stored in Maryland's arrestee database in 2011, but blacks accounted for 30 percent of the population.