In a 5-4 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a Maryland statute that permits the police to take DNA samples from anyone arrested for a serious crime. Writing for the majority, Justice Anthony Kennedy said the cheek swab was a legitimate identification procedure, like fingerprinting and photographing. The dissent, written by Justice Antonin Scalia and joined by Justices Ginsburg, Sotomayor and Kagan, accused the majority of being disingenuous in pretending the purpose of the DNA testing is identification rather than its real purpose – solving cold cases.
The case, Maryland v. King, challenged a Maryland statute that permitted DNA testing of arrestees for serious crimes. Alonzo Jay King, Jr., had been arrested on assault charges and his DNA was taken. His profile matched evidence from an unsolved rape. He was charged with that rape and convicted.
See the following readings:
- Maryland v. King, 509 U.S. ____ (2013).
- SCOTUSBlog Coverage of Maryland v. King including links to the Docket, lower court’s opinion, U.S. Supreme Court opinion, transcripts and audio of the arguments, and related news coverage.
Willie Manning was scheduled to be executed in Mississippi on Tuesday, May 7, 2013, despite pleas from his lawyers for time to conduct DNA testing of hair found in the clenched fists and on the clothes of the woman Manning was convicted of murdering. The hairs were not the victim’s and Manning’s lawyers thought that DNA testing could provide evidence of innocence by pointing to an alternative perpetrator. Last minute requests for a stay to permit testing were ignored by the courts until the FBI weighed in on the case.
Simultaneously, while lawyer’s battled to save Manning’s life, the Department of Justice was engaged in conducting a full internal review of all cases where FBI agents performed forensic hair analysis and subsequently testified in trials about the analysis. DOJ undertook the review because in too many cases, post-conviction DNA test results showed FBI agents testified inaccurately and unscientifically about hair comparison. DOJ identified Willie Manning’s case as one where the FBI agent provided false testimony at trial — testimony that was used by the prosecutor in closing to link Willie Manning to the crime scene. The FBI now admits that the agent’s testimony that the hair came from a member of the “black race” is scientifically invalid. The case was given priority because of the impending execution.
When the FBI position was brought to the attention of the Mississippi Supreme Court, the Court granted the request for a stay by a vote of 8 to1. The majority did not write an opinion. The dissent, in a rambling colloquy, faulted the FBI for working with the Innocence Project and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers – even though the organizations were all joined in a search for scientific accuracy.
Read the decision here: Manning Stay
Did you know that post-conviction DNA testing statutes are far from uniform? Have you ever used CPL 440.30(1-a)? What was your experience?