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U.S. Supreme Court grants stay in DNA evidence collection case

In an opinion authored by Chief Justice John Roberts, the U.S. Supreme Court recently granted a stay in a rape case involving issues of DNA evidence. The stay was based on the likelihood that the Supreme Court will ultimately review the case to decide the constitutionality of state collection of genetic evidence from people who have not been convicted of crimes.

The case involves a Maryland man who was convicted of a rape based on DNA sample routinely collected when he was charged with a separate assault crime. Maryland's high court recently overturned the conviction, holding that the process violated the man's Fourth Amendment privacy rights.

Maryland has appealed the decision, and the Supreme Court considered several factors in deciding that the judgment of Maryland Court of Appeals should be stayed. Chief Justice Roberts cited inconsistent decisions in two federal circuits as well as opinions upholding DNA collection practices by state supreme courts in Virginia and Arizona.

Half of the states, as well as federal law enforcement, already collect DNA samples from criminal suspects, usually in cases involving investigations of violent crimes. Florida maintains a Convicted Felon DNA Database that classifies, stores and matches DNA molecules collected from people who have been convicted of murder, aggravated battery, sexual battery, lewdness, carjacking, burglary, and several robbery offenses.

Civil liberties advocates and criminal defense lawyers point to the clear difference between collecting genetic material from people who have been found guilty and mandating samples those who are merely suspected of criminal activity. For that reason, defense attorneys will watch this case and similar appeals that may be reviewed simultaneously with close interest.

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