The U.S. Supreme Court is allowing Maryland to resume the collection of DNA samples after arrests for violent crimes, an action the Baltimore Sun calls an indication that the justices might decide the issue that has divided lower courts and pitted tough-on-crime state officials against civil liberties activists. Yesterday’s order from Chief Justice John Roberts is temporary, intended to give opponents of the law a chance to respond before the court makes a more definitive ruling. The uncertainty about what will happen next had led to confusion in law enforcement circles about whether police should immediately reinstate the practice.
Maryland Attorney General Douglas Gansler said Roberts’ action is a hopeful sign that the Supreme Court is ready to have the final say on the high-profile matter. Maryland’s highest court ruled in April that taking the samples before a suspect is convicted violates their Fourth Amendment rights. Opponents of the practice argue that genetic data contains sensitive information that could be abused, such as a person’s predisposition to certain diseases. Those who favor the post-arrest DNA collection say that the samples are the equivalent of 21st-century fingerprints.