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Constitutional protections do not forbid police from taking DNA samples from those arrested for serious crimes, according to the Supreme Court in its 5-4 decision Monday in Maryland v. King.

If someone is arrested on suspicion of having committed certain felonies (not lesser crimes), Maryland law authorized police using a cotton swab to take a DNA sample. Police would then check to see if that DNA matches unsolved crimes in other cases.

All 50 states allow taking DNA from people who are convicted of felonies, after they have been afforded all their due-process rights and been found guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. The difference here is taking DNA after an arrest for a serious crime, but before any determination of conviction in court. There are 28 states with laws like Maryland’s.

The Maryland Court of Appeals (that state’s highest court) struck down the Maryland statute in a divided decision, holding that the DNA sample violating the arrested person’s Fourth Amendment right against “unreasonable searches and seizures.” Today the Supreme Court reversed in a decision written by Justice Anthony Kennedy.

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