The U.S. Supreme Court has put on hold — at least for a week — a ruling by Maryland’s highest court that prohibits DNA collection from suspects charged but not yet convicted in violent crimes.
Maryland Attorney General Douglas Gansler had asked the nation’s highest court to intervene in the case of Alonzo Jay King Jr. v. State of Maryland after his bid failed to have the Maryland Court of Appeals reverse its own decision. The order grants a stay until at least July 25.
In a statement, Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler said he was “encouraged” by the order which “may indeed result in identifying perpetrators in some of Maryland’s most horrific unsolved cases where DNA was left at the scene of the crime.” David Paulson, a Gansler spokesman, said police agencies “certainly may” resume DNA collection, though lawyers in the attorney general’s office were still weighing how they would advise those agencies on how to proceed.”
Stephen Mercer, the chief attorney for the Office of the Maryland Public Defender’s Forensics Division, said the public defender’s office, which opposes the pre-conviction DNA testing, was preparing to respond immediately.
The case centers on Maryland legislation, which, starting in 2009, allowed police to collect DNA from suspects after they were charged with violent crimes or burglaries. Before then, police had been able to collect DNA only from convicted criminals.
Alonzo Jay King Jr. challenged the law after he was arrested in Wicomico County in April 2009 on first- and second-degree assault charges. Prosecutors used a DNA swab stemming from that case to connect him to a 2003 rape. He was eventually convicted and sentenced to life in prison for the rape.
But in a 5 to 2 ruling, the Maryland Court of Appeals sent King’s case back to the Wicomico County Circuit Court and threw out the DNA evidence against him, saying investigators violated his Fourth Amendment rights in taking his genetic material and comparing it with old crime scene samples. The ruling was condemned by prosecutors and police chiefs, who said it would hamper detectives’ ability to solve cold cases and jeopardize the convictions of 34 robbers, burglars and rapists whose genetic samples were taken after they were charged in separate cases.
Police across the state had stopped collecting DNA from charged suspects in the wake of the Court of Appeals ruling. It remains unclear how they will proceed as the case continues to make its way through the nation’s court system.