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DNA-swab case returns to Court of Appeals

Alonzo Jay King Jr., who lost in the Supreme Court on his claim that a police swab for his DNA violated the federal Constitution, suffered another defeat Wednesday.

Maryland’s top court held the cheek swab did not violate the state constitution’s ban on unreasonable searches and seizures.

The swab is required under the Maryland DNA Collection Act for people arrested on charges of committing or attempting to commit a violent crime.

In its 6-1 decision Wednesday, the Court of Appeals said Article 26 of the Maryland Declaration of Rights provides the same protection as the U.S. Constitution’s Fourth Amendment. Thus, because the Supreme Court found the swab valid under the Fourth Amendment, the Court of Appeals likewise upheld the search under Article 26.

“Although we have asserted that Article 26 may have a meaning independent of the Fourth Amendment, we have not held, to date, that it provides greater protection against state searches than its federal kin,” Judge Glenn T. Harrell Jr. wrote for Maryland’s high court. “Rather we have rejected uniformly such assertions.”

The result of King’s controversial DNA test led to his conviction and life sentence for a previously unsolved rape committed six years earlier.

The Maryland Court of Appeals overturned the conviction in April 2012, holding that the warrantless collection of DNA upon arrest is unconstitutional in nearly every possible circumstance. The court, in an opinion Harrell also wrote, said the collection act would be constitutional only when collecting a genetic sample is the sole way police can determine the detainee’s identity.

But the Supreme Court overturned that decision on June 3 and reinstated King’s conviction and life sentence. The court said the Fourth Amendment allows police to collect DNA samples from people arrested on charges of committing or attempting to commit a violent crime.

“The legitimate government interest served by the Maryland DNA Collection Act is one that is well established: the need for law enforcement officers in a safe and accurate way to process and identify the persons and possessions they must take into custody,” Justice Anthony M. Kennedy wrote for the 5-4 majority.

King’s case then returned to Maryland’s top court, which determined on remand that the act also passes muster under the state constitution. Retired Chief Judge Robert M. Bell was the sole dissenter on the seven-member Court of Appeals.

As for the assault charge, King was found guilty of a misdemeanor count of second-degree assault and sentenced to four years in prison with all but one suspended.