Salisbury DNA Case Could Be Headed To Supreme Court

SALISBURY — One week after the Maryland Court of Appeals reversed the conviction of a Salisbury man sentenced to life in prison for a brutal 2003 rape over an alleged “illegal” DNA sample, the case could be headed for a review by the U.S. Supreme Court for what could be a landmark decision.

In 2008, the Maryland General Assembly amended the state’s DNA Collection Act to allow law enforcement officials to collect DNA samples from individuals arrested for certain violent crimes and the DNA samples are then filed in national databases. Already, in just three-plus years since the amendment, hundreds of arrestees have been connected to prior unsolved violent crimes. In other cases, those wrongly convicted have been exonerated by the collection of DNA samples.

However, the Maryland Court of Appeals last week essentially ruled the DNA samples collected from those arrested and charged, but not convicted, of certain crimes is illegal in the sense that it violates an arrestee’s Fourth Amendment right to privacy. While the high court’s decision has broad, landmark implications, its ruling was based on the individual case of a Salisbury man convicted in 2010 of first-degree rape and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

In July 2010, Alonzo Jay King, Jr., now 29, of Salisbury, was found guilty of first-degree rape for an unsolved 2003 case during which he allegedly broke down the door of a residence in Salisbury, armed with a gun and wearing a mask over his face, and sexually assaulted the 52-year-old female victim. In September 2010, King was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole, but quickly appealed the conviction based on alleged illegal DNA sample collection following a subsequent arrest for assault.

In 2009, King was arrested on first- and second-degree assault charges and was later convicted on those counts. King was arrested after photographic and fingerprint evidence identified him as a suspect. However, a DNA sample was taken from King at the time of the 2009 arrest, and when the information was entered in the state DNA database, the evidence linked him to the 2003 rape case.

King was ultimately convicted of first-degree rape and sentenced to life in prison, but he appealed, arguing the second DNA sample used at trial violated his right against unreasonable searches. Last week, the Maryland Court of Appeals agreed the second sample was unconstitutional.

This week, however, Maryland Attorney General Doug Gansler filed a motion essentially asking the Court of Appeals to reverse the decision, or in the alternative, at least stay the decision until an effort can be made to get the landmark decision in front of the U.S. Supreme Court. If the Maryland Court of Appeals does not reverse its decision, Gansler will petition the Supreme Court to review the ruling.

“The court’s decision undermines important public safety objectives that the General Assembly sought to achieve when it amended the state’s DNA Collection Act in 2008,” Gansler’s motion reads. “The 2008 amendments have bolstered law enforcement efforts and have led to the apprehension of violent criminals who committed crimes that might otherwise have gone unsolved. The 2008 amendments to Maryland’s DNA Collection Act already have generated evidence that could help to resolve 190 unsolved cases.”

Gansler suggested the Court of Appeals ruling was essentially made in a vacuum and weighed an arrestee’s right to privacy under the Fourth Amendment to the greater good of public safety and closing unsolved crimes with the use of DNA evidence.

“It should not be forgotten that this case involves a heinous crime against a real, life-and-blood victim where the identity of the perpetrator and is actual guilt are not in genuine dispute,” Gansler wrote. “Yet, as the majority opinion predicts, the new trial that the court’s ruling directs is one where the strongest piece of evidence linking the perpetrator to the crime cannot be considered. For this reason, above all others, the court should reconsider its ruling.”

The Maryland Court of Appeals’ dissenting opinion on the King case concurs with Gansler’s opinion.

“The majority arrives at this decision by overinflating an arrestee’s interest in privacy and underestimating the state’s interest in collecting arrestee DNA, and in doing so, plays fast and loose with the well-recognized test for determining the constitutionality of warrantless searches,” the dissenting opinion reads. “Regrettably, both for the present case and all other future cases like it, the majority’s application of the test to the circumstances here could not be more wrong.”

Law enforcement officials this week weighed in on the high court’s decision to essentially take a valuable tool out of their arsenal.

“Since the arrestee-charged database law is only three years old, we are nowhere near reaching its full potential as a crime fighting tool,” said Maryland State Police Superintendent Col. Marcus Brown. “As we have seen with the convicted offender database, as the number of samples in the database expands, the number of positive comparisons and identified offenders increases exponentially.”