Changes in Maryland DNA Evidence Handling: What You Should Know
It’s hard to overstate the persuasive weight DNA evidence can hold in modern criminal cases. If you judge solely from the most popular criminal law dramas, you might think DNA evidence is a courtroom requirement. Hollywood exaggerations aside, the full ramifications of DNA sample-taking are still being debated in the courts. Just last year, Maryland’s highest court took a new stance with a ruling concluding that once taken, a DNA sample can be used by authorities to investigate unrelated, unsolved crimes at any time—as long as the sample was originally obtained legally. This means that re-using DNA evidence on file in a new case would not be considered unreasonable search and seizure under the Fourth Amendment, and no new warrant would need to be obtained by law enforcement before re-using DNA evidence taken legally in pursuit of unrelated cases.
Though the ruling has met with some controversy, the decision had been looming on the horizon for those paying attention for some time. In the 2013 case Maryland v. King, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that DNA samples should be treated no differently than a fingerprint or booking photo.
What does this mean for me?
With this latest ruling, you should know that if you’re ever arrested and provide a DNA sample, that sample will be on file indefinitely and could be used in any future criminal case involving you. It is important to note that there are reasons for this that go beyond potential future prosecution—police officers also use DNA records to find potential relatives when looking at murder victims, along with other information-gathering law enforcement uses. Should you ever face a criminal case in which a previously given DNA sample is used against you in an unrelated case, a good defense lawyer should be able to examine the legality of how the sample was originally obtained, find any relevant chain of custody issues, question the sample’s quality, and explore explanations other than criminality for why your DNA may have been found related to a case.