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Maryland v. King

Summarized by: 

Date Filed: June 3, 2013
Case #: 12-207
Kennedy, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Roberts, C. J., and Thomas, Breyer, and Alito, JJ., joined. Scalia, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which Ginsburg, Sotomayor, and Kagan, JJ., joined.
Full Text Opinion: http://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/12pdf/12-207_d18e.pdf

Criminal Procedure: A DNA cheek swab may be taken from a suspect of a serious crime whose arrest is supported by probable cause. The taking and analyzing of a DNA cheek swab is a legitimate police booking procedure that is considered reasonable under the Fourth Amendment.

Respondent was arrested and charged with assault. The booking procedures for serious offenses included that a DNA swab be taken from Respondent’s cheek. Respondent’s DNA matched DNA evidence found during the investigation of a rape. Respondent was charged and convicted for the rape. The lower court ruled that the DNA swab had been taken as part of an unlawful search and seizure.    

The Supreme Court granted certiorari, reversed, and held that a DNA cheek swab may be taken from a suspect of a serious crime whose arrest is supported by probable cause. The taking and analyzing of a DNA cheek swab is a legitimate police booking procedure that is considered reasonable under the Fourth Amendment. The DNA swabbing procedure does not require “surgical intrusion[n] beneath the skin” and does not risk the suspect’s “health and safety.” The Court reasoned that since the Respondent had been arrested for a serious offense, supported by probable cause, the search is analyzed for “reasonableness, not individualized suspicion.” Reasonableness is determined by balancing “the promotion of legitimate government interests” and “the degree to which [the search] intrudes upon an individual’s privacy.”  

The Court cited Gerstein v. Pugh, 420 U. S. 103,113-114 (1975) in reasoning that there is a well-founded legitimate government interest in safe and accurate practices for the processing and identification of persons and possessions taken into government custody. It has been held previously that “routine administrative procedure[s] at a police station house incident to booking and jailing the suspect” have different origins and constitutional justification than searches at other locations or under different circumstances. The Court analogized DNA to fingerprinting as a method of identifying individuals and that fingerprinting has long been held as a component of “the administrative steps incident to arrest.” The Court reasoned that due to the manner in which the DNA swab was taken that the intrusion was minimal and did not add indignity to the normal incidents associated with arrest.