Based on a DNA match, a Maryland man was charged with a 1996 sexual assault. His trial was postponed after he challenged the state’s DNA database. In a case to be heard next month by an appeals court, reports the Washington Post, the man’s attorneys argue that forcing convicted felons to give DNA samples — which officials said has helped solve dozens of crimes in the state since 1994 — is unconstitutional.
If Maryland loses the case, the state could be forced to end or scale back a nearly decade-old system of DNA collection that they consider an important crime-solving resource. “To not be able to utilize a system like this is an absolute losing scenario for the public,” said Capt. John Fitzgerald, a Montgomery County police spokesman. “It can prove people guilty. But this technology also helps show innocence.”
DNA collection systems are in place in every state and Washington, D.C. Maryland’s database, kept by the state police, contains nearly 17,000 samples from criminals and crime scenes. Defendants convicted of felonies or certain misdemeanors must provide DNA samples for storage and cross-checking in the database. Felons in state prisons must submit samples.
In cases challenging DNA collection elsewhere in the country, many federal and state appeals courts have rejected Fourth Amendment claims. A three-judge panel of the San Francisco-based U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit agreed with the argument in a case involving the federal DNA collection system. The full court has taken up the case but has not issued a ruling.