Md. high court will not reverse DNA ruling; AG plans Supreme Court challenge

Maryland’s highest court will not overturn — or even temporarily suspend — its ruling last month that prohibits DNA collection from those charged but not yet convicted in violent crimes and burglaries, authorities said Friday.

The Court of Appeals clerk’s office confirmed that judges had denied Maryland Attorney General Douglas Gansler’s motion to stay and reconsider the Alonzo Jay King Jr. v. State of Maryland decision, which found that swabbing criminal suspects for DNA samples after they are charged is a violation of the suspects’ constitutional rights. A Gansler spokesman said the attorney general plans to challenge the court’s ruling with the U.S. Supreme Court.

“The next step is that . . . we’re going to petition the Supreme Court,” said David Paulson, the Gansler spokesman, noting that those in the attorney general’s office had yet to see the Court of Appeals’ latest ruling.

That Gansler’s motion was denied is no surprise; the attorney general was essentially asking the Court of Appeals to reverse itself only weeks after it issued a decision. Still, it means police will not be able to collect DNA from charged suspects while they await further court action. Gansler has said he intends to ask the Supreme Court to temporarily suspend the state court’s ruling and, eventually, overturn it.

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. Gansler had asked the same judges who ruled in that case to halt and reconsider their decision, which was publicly criticized by police and prosecutors across the state.

Matt Zapotosky covers the federal district courthouse in Alexandria, where he tries to break news from a windowless office in which he is not allowed to bring his cell phone.
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