No more cheek swabs for DNA in Md., high court rules

WASHINGTON – Maryland’s high court has ruled swabbing arrestees’ cheeks for DNA is unconstitutional and the state’s attorney general is expected to give police departments some direction on the ruling.

The Court of Appeals found that taking “buckle swabs” – as they’re called – is a violation of a person’s Fourth Amendment rights.

As of Thursday, the Montgomery County attorney told jail staff to stop taking DNA swabs. There are questions as to what will happen to already collected samples that have not been processed.

Governor Martin O’Malley, police departments and Montgomery County State’s Attorney John McCarthy are among those urging Maryland Attorney General Doug Gansler to ask for a stay and to take the case to the Supreme Court.

Taking a case to the Supreme Court requires petitioning for writ of certiorari – a request that the Supreme Court take up a case for legal review.

McCarthy says there is a legal fix to the high court’s objections to taking DNA swabs, and is hopeful that if the case goes to the Supreme Court, collecting DNA samples from arrestees could become standard practice.

Under the Maryland law, the swabs are only taken from those arrested for violent crimes or burglaries. O’Malley and McCarthy argue that the practice not only helps solve cold cases when a ‘hit’ pops up in the DNA database, but that the practice helps exonerate people as well. The law took effect in 2009.

Civil liberties groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union, have called the Maryland high court’s ruling a victory for individual rights.

WTOP’s Kate Ryan contributed to this report. Follow Kate Ryan and WTOP on Twitter.

(Copyright 2012 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)

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