Maryland v. King and DNA Sampling at Arrest

Maryland v. King and DNA Sampling at Arrest

In a 5-4 decision, the US Supreme Court has ruled in Maryland v. King that the police can collect DNA samples from people arrested for "serious crimes."  The New York Times reports:

The federal government and 28 states authorize the practice, and law enforcement officials say it is a valuable tool for investigating unsolved crimes. But the court said the testing was justified by a different reason: to identify the suspect in custody.

“When officers make an arrest supported by probable cause to hold for a serious offense and they bring the suspect to the station to be detained in custody,” Justice Anthony M. Kennedy wrote for the majority, “taking and analyzing a cheek swab of the arrestee’s DNA is, like fingerprinting and photographing, a legitimate police booking procedure that is reasonable under the Fourth Amendment.”

Justice Antonin Scalia summarized his dissent from the bench, a rare move signaling deep disagreement. He accused the majority of an unsuccessful sleight of hand, one that “taxes the credulity of the credulous.” The point of DNA testing as it is actually practiced, he said, is to solve cold cases, not to identify the suspect in custody.

But the Fourth Amendment forbids searches without reasonable suspicion to gather evidence about an unrelated crime, he said, a point the majority did not dispute. “Make no mistake about it: because of today’s decision, your DNA can be taken and entered into a national database if you are ever arrested, rightly or wrongly, and for whatever reason,” Justice Scalia said from the bench.

I think Justice Scalia is correct.  The first thing law enforcement will do is lower the definition of "serious crime" as low as possible so that they can DNA sample as many people as possible.  The DNA will remain on file in some database even if the case is dismissed, just like records of arrests often linger for the rest of a person's life.  

Article here.

Continue reading
4890 Hits

Top Ten TV Myths About Criminal Law

Top Ten TV Myths About Criminal Law

It is nearly impossible to watch a TV cop drama with a prosecutor, defense attorney or cop.  Here's why:

Top Ten TV Myths About The Criminal Justice System


1. Cops have to read people their rights.

"You have the right to remain silent . . ."  Pretty much every cop, every prosecutor, every criminal defense attorney, and every Law & Order junkie can recite the rest of the Miranda rights that we hear on television, leading people to think it's required.  It isn't.  Police can arrest suspects all day long and twice on Sunday without ever reading them anything.  Only if the police want to also question them are the Miranda rights required. 

2. Guns have to be registered. 

It's a common line on cop dramas that someone has an "unregistered handgun" or a discovered handgun will be found to be "registered" to someone who will be tracked down and give the police their first lead.  But there is no national gun registry.  A few states have them, but most don't.  And while their might be a record kept of who bought a gun originally, there's no record kept of who that person sold it to the next day.

3. There is a fingerprint database with everyone's fingerprints.

Whenever a fingerprint is found at a TV crime scene, a quick AFIS (Automated Fingerprint Identification System) always turns up the owner.  While AFIS is certainly a powerful tool for law enforcement, it contains only about 100,000,000 fingerprints, or about 1/3 of the people in the US.  I.e., there's only a 30% chance that a fingerprint found at a crime scene can be matched to any known person.

4. There is a DNA database with everyone's DNA.

Whenever a DNA sample is collected on TV, the police usually have identified a suspect by the next commercial break, because the DNA matches a sample in the database.  That's nowhere close to reality.  The DNA version of the fingerprint database is called CODIS, but it contains less than 10,000,000  DNA samples.  So while it's great that law enforcement may collect a sample at a scene, there's only about a 1-in-30 chance that there is a matching sample in CODIS. 

5. Crime lab tests take about 30 minutes.

On TV, the crime lab test of some unknown substance is completed before the next commercial break, leading to another clue or suspect by the bottom of the hour.  In reality, crime labs are often backed up for weeks or months.  Even a simple test to confirm that the GLM (green leafy material) that everyone already knows is marijuana is actually marijuana (tetrahydrocannabinol) can take longer than an entire season of a TV cop drama. 

6. Cops taste drugs.

No cop in his right mind is going to stick his finger in some pile of unknown white powder and taste it.

7. Cops make deals.

On TV, cops will sit down with minor suspects and cut plea deals if they give up information on the larger suspects.  In reality, cops don't have the authority to make deals.  Most suspects don't know that, so the tactic still works.

8. Entire teams of cops focus all their energy on a single case.

To watch TV, one has to wonder what these people are going to do once the case is over, because it appears they don't have another single case going on. In reality, a detective splits his time between scores or hundreds of cases, and his fellow detectives have their own caseloads.  The faster they can arrest someone, close the case and move on to the next one, the better.  Good luck getting two of them on the same case, let alone an entire team.

9. Cops can't lie.

I suppose it would be unseemly if the hero cop on your favorite TV drama blatantly lied to a suspect in order to get a confession from him.  In reality, cops are free to do that and often do.  To "challenge" a suspect with untrue information in an effort to see how the suspect reacts is just one more completely legal tool in their bag of tricks, and it works.

10.  Trials are short. 

TV can be excused, I suppose, for trimming trials down to a manageable size.  An actual felony trial can take anywhere from two days to several weeks.  My personal record is about eight days in a Gwinnett County murder case.  Unlike doctors, where even a heart transplant can be performed in a single workday, a criminal trial is measured in days or weeks.



Don't miss a single post! To be alerted when a new blog post appears (about every other day or so), click on "Subscribe to Blog" near the top of this page.


Continue reading
5572 Hits

ELEVEN False Rape Claims

A woman in England has been arrested for making false rape allegations for the eleventh time:

Elizabeth Jones, 22, was exposed when CCTV footage disproved her allegation against a man she ‘did not like any more’.  She had made her first false rape claim in 2004 when she was just 13. . . . Between 2005 and 2007 she made another eight allegations which police investigated and dismissed. . . .   In 2009 she was sentenced to a ten-month detention and training order for a similar offense. 

Jones’s latest victim was a boyfriend against whom she made the allegation after the pair had an argument.  Police began an investigation after Jones . . . persuaded a friend to report she had been assaulted.

So not only does she fool the cops, she fools her friends.

She later went to the police station for a medical examination and repeated her allegation. The man was arrested and questioned for nine hours before being released without charge.  Prosecutor Jennie Rickman said he denied rape and detectives later viewed CCTV covering part of the house in which Jones claimed to have been attacked.  The video did not support her story that the man forced himself on her.

So because she screams rape and puts on a show, some poor guy gets arrested, booked, photographed, fingerprinted, and interrogated for nine straight hours.   That's the sort of thing that leads to innocent peple making  false confessions just to get the cops off their back.

What if the CCTV footage hadn't existed?  It wouldn't just be her word against his, because these medical examinations almost always find a way to support the accuser.  It's usually some weasel words like "the medical findings are consistent with the patient's accusations" or are "not inconsistent with sexual assault."  Jurors latch on to that as proof of rape, even when the medical evidence is just as consistent with consensual sex.

I feel sorry for any man accused of rape, because they don't get fair trials. I've tried several rape cases in my career, and I'm always amazed at how closed-minded some potential jurors are. I've had potential jurors say, "A woman would never lie about being raped" and they mean it.  I guess these people have never heard of the Runaway Bride

It's tough for a man accused of rape to get a fair trial.  Men accused of rape or any other sexual offense need to make sure they have an experienced attorney on their side before walking into the courtrom.  


UPDATE:  Here's another example of an innocent man accused of rape because the "victim" didn't want to confess to consensual sex with her friend's boyfriend.

Ashleigh Loder, 25, wasted at least 100 hours of police time by inventing the assaults.  She first told officers she had been attacked by two strangers in an alley before changing her story to say a man she knew had forced her to have sex in her home.

In the UK, there's more aggressive prosecution of false claims than in the US.  Note, though, that this article is written to complain about the prosecution of false claims, not applaud it.

UPDATE II:  To make the double standard worse, we have people like Zerlina Maxwell arguing that any woman claiming rape should be automatically believed.  That's the attitude men are up against in court.


Famous False Confession Cases


Woman Cries Rape Because She Didn't Enjoy It


False Confessions Plague Criminal Justice System With Wrongful Convictions and Wrongful "Guilty" Pleas


Don't miss a single post! To be alerted when a new blog post appears (about every other day or so), click on "Subscribe to Blog" near the top of this page.

Continue reading
7568 Hits

Supreme Court Skeptical About DNA Collection

Supreme Court Skeptical About DNA Collection

There is no big DNA database containing the DNA sequence of every American.  What little DNA database their is was mostly collected from convicts and parolees.  So while police may collect an unknown DNA sample from a crime scene, they often can't link it to any specific person, unless that specific person has already committed a crime and is already in the database. 

Continue reading
5222 Hits