SALISBURY, Md.- Alonzo King of Salisbury is a convicted rapist. He was found guilty of the 2003 rape of a 53-year-old woman, six years later. It all stemmed from an unrelated arrest, and a DNA sample. That sample is now at the center of a U.S. Supreme Court case that got underway Tuesday: the first in a century for Wicomico County.
Collecting DNA samples using a cheek swab is common practice following an arrest in 28 states, including Maryland. In Alonzo King's case, his was collected after his 2009 arrest for assault. The sample was run through a national crime database, and Wicomico County officials found a match.
After his arrest for pointing a gun at a group of people in 2009, no one suspected King was a rapist. Little did police know a standard swab of King's cheek would be the answer to an unsolved Wicomico County rape case from six years earlier.
King appealed his conviction, saying taking his DNA violated his constitutional rights. The Maryland Court of Appeals agreed, but the Wicomico County State's Attorney's Office filed a petition with the U.S. Supreme Court.
And the office is feeling confident the law will be upheld.
"This law is simply keeping up with the changing technology, and I would argue that taking a simple swab from the inside of someone's cheek is much less intrusive to that person than inking up their fingers and taking their fingerprints," said Assistant State's Attorney for Wicomico County, Joel Todd. "So I don't see how it can be considered an invasion of their privacy, by any stretch of the imagination."
Defense attorney, William Hall, said the implications of this case are huge, since so many states rely on DNA hits to solve unsolved crimes.
But he said the idea of warrantless searches is scary.
"The Fourth Amendment is there for a good reason," noted Hall. "Its been the law of the land for a long time now, and as a former prosecutor, whenever I had any question at all in regards to a search, it's very easy to obtain a warrant. And that's all that needs to be done in these cases. If you suspect somebody of something, obtain a warrant. That way your case is bulletproof as a prosecutor."
According to Todd, the Supreme Court's ruling on the case is not expected to come until this summer.
Similar laws for obtaining DNA at the time of an arrest have been upheld as constitutional in other states. Now, other jurisdictions are waiting on the Supreme Court to determine whether the practice is valid.