DNA a civil rights issue in U.S. Supreme Court case

In a case that spotlights the growing use of genetic data by law enforcement agencies, the U.S. Supreme Court will consider on Tuesday when a DNA sample may be taken from a suspect.

Police and prosecutors in Maryland suffered a major setback when the state's court of appeals ruled in April 2012 that Alonzo King's Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable search and seizure was violated when he was required to provide his DNA upon being arrested.

Under Maryland law, samples can be taken from anyone arrested for a serious offense without police needing to get a warrant first. Police can then submit those samples to a national database to see if the suspect is linked with any other crimes.

The case being argued Tuesday focuses purely on samples taken after a suspect is arrested and charged with a crime, but not convicted of it. Samples taken from convicted felons are routinely submitted to the national database. That practice is not an issue in the case.

The sample King gave after a 2009 arrest in Wicomico County on two assault charges linked him to a 2003 rape. He was sentenced to life in prison after being convicted of the rape and was convicted of one count of misdemeanor assault on the 2009 charges.

His lawyers argue that the sample taken in the assault arrest should not have been used to link him to the rape.

The nine members of the U.S. Supreme Court will review the Maryland court ruling during a one-hour oral argument.

King has received full-throated support from civil liberties groups, which are concerned that the government has too few constraints in collecting DNA. At a minimum, police should be required to get a warrant, based on what lawyers call "individualized suspicion," that links a suspect to a particular crime, King's backers say. There was nothing linking King to the rape until after his DNA was taken and submitted to the database.

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