The U.S. Supreme Court heard argument Tuesday on a basic law enforcement tool -- whether DNA samples may be taken from suspects without a warrant.
The effect of a ruling would have an impact throughout the United States. Twenty-eight states and the federal government routinely take DNA samples from suspects, often linking them to past unsolved crimes, including rapes and murders.
All 50 states and the federal government collect DNA from convicted felons.
A decision against the police procedure would put the use of many DNA data banks in jeopardy.
Maryland is one of the states that collect DNA from suspects before conviction. Alonzo Jay King Jr. was arrested in Maryland on assault charges, and a sample of King's DNA was then taken by putting a cotton swab inside his cheek, the ABA Journal reported.
King's DNA was matched to evidence from an unsolved sexual assault. Maryland law says a DNA match cannot be used as evidence at trial, but can provide probable cause for arresting a suspect and taking another DNA sample, the Journal said.
King was convicted of rape and sentenced to life in prison. But a Maryland appeals court threw out the DNA evidence. The state then asked the U.S. Supreme Court for review.
In the King case, Supreme Court justices questioned whether taking a DNA sample without a warrant would lead to more searches.
"The state does not have the right to go search your house for evidence of unrelated crimes," Justice Elena Kagan said.
The Baltimore Sun said Justice Sonia Sotomayor later asked rhetorically whether an arrest gives law enforcement permission to "run rampant" through a suspect's life.
The justices should hand down a ruling within a few months.
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