Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Blast Off for King from Florida's Space Belt? Not Quite

In Maryland v. King,1/ the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of taking DNA from individuals merely arrested of crimes. The majority relied on the perceived value of DNA profiling following by trawls of DNA databases of profiles from unsolved crimes to inform bail determinations and other pretrial decisions. The idea is that the arrestee might be linked to an unsolved crime, which would be good to know before critical decisions are made or become irrevocable.

Although such pretrial hits to unrelated crimes are rarely made with lightning speed, the Court suggested that this situation could change (just as it did with the introduction of computerized fingerprint matching). The majority wrote that:
[T]he FBI has already begun testing devices that will enable police to process the DNA of arrestees within 90 minutes. ... . An assessment and understanding of the reasonableness of this minimally invasive search of a person detained for a serious crime should take account of these technical advances. ... New technology will only further improve its speed and therefore its effectiveness.2/
Yesterday, Florida’s Space Coast Daily newspaper announced a “first-ever application of rapid DNA technology.”3/ “In January 2014,” police in the city of Palm Bay, south of Melbourne, “began processing samples from active cases” with IntegenX’s RapidHIT 200 device for producing STR profiles in about 90 minutes. They struck paydirt in the investigation of a September 2013 home burglary that netted “approximately $30,000 worth of property including firearms, electronic equipment, computers, TV’s, military equipment including a bulletproof vest, clothing, several guitars and even the cable box.”

Despite the "first-ever" buzz, other localities are using the same technology operationally. In South Carolina, for example, it fingered "one of three suspects in a string of burglaries in northeast Richland County from December 2013 to February 2014."4/

Does this mean that the Court’s prediction has come true, that arrestee DNA is being processed within a two-hour window? Hardly. The Palm Bay case concerned an individual who already had been “arrested for the crime based on witness statements and other evidence. A blood sample taken from the scene was run through the RapidHIT 200 which yielded a profile that matched the same suspect who had been arrested and charged with the crime.” This is not a case in which an automated, rapid system for DNA profiling was applied to acquire an arrestee profile for checking against a DNA database for unsolved crimes, as the King Court contemplated.

Nevertheless, when validated, the rapid processing power certainly can be applied to arrestee samples. Those are easier to analyze than are the often messier crime-scene samples that the Palm Bay police are profiling with the technology. The Court’s prediction may seem space age, but it is not particularly futuristic.

Indeed, the article goes on to suggest that by uploading the RapidHIT profiles into a local database of “Palm Bay and several local agencies, including Melbourne, West Melbourne and Cocoa Police,” police in the region are in a position to identify “suspects who cross jurisdictions to commit their crimes.” Of course, this is what Florida’s SDIS (State DNA Index System) does. Presumably, the objective of these police agencies is to do it more nimbly and quickly. Yet, that, in turn, creates alarms about “rogue databases” operating outside a statutory framework.


"IntegenX Inc. has met the FBI guidelines to upload directly to the NDIS system known arrestee and convicted offender DNA profiles, as well as casework known samples, generated with the RapidHIT System using Life Technologies GlobalFiler Express kits from Thermo Fisher Scientific." IntegenX Inc., RapidHIT System Approved to Upload DNA Profiles to National Database, Forensic Mag.,
Mar. 19, 2014.


1. 133 S.Ct. 1958 (2013).
2. Id. at 1977.
3. Palm Bay Police Nail Crooks With DNA Evidence, Space Coast Daily, Feb. 25, 2014,
4. Cassie Cope, Richland Sheriff’s Department’s New Machine Analyzes DNA in 90 Minutes, State (S.Car.), Feb. 27, 2014,

Previous Postings on the Opinions in Maryland v. King