Saturday, June 6, 2015

Maryland v. King and Fourth Amendment Doctrine

In Maryland v. King,1/ the Supreme Court upheld the practice of routine DNA sampling soon after arrest for certain crimes. The impact of the decision of the doctrinal framework for applying the Fourth Amendment to searches has been the subject of debate. The most extreme view is that is the opinion presages the collapse of the doctrine that criminal investigatory searches are per se unreasonable unless they fall within some well-defined exception to the requirement of a warrant based on probable cause.2/ Another destabilizing view is that the case establishes “that any suspicionless search of an arrestee is allowed if it will be useful to solve crimes.” 3/ Other observers were less alarmed.4/

A case having nothing to do with DNA suggests that King is not the death knell of either the reasonable-suspicion requirement for a search incident to arrest or the warrant requirement. In Riley v. California,5/ Chief Justice Roberts wrote that
As the text [of the Amendment] makes clear, “the ultimate touchstone of the Fourth Amendment is reasonableness." Our cases have determined that "[w]here a search is undertaken by law enforcement officials to discover evidence of criminal wrongdoing, ... reasonableness generally requires the obtaining of a judicial warrant." Such a warrant ensures that the inferences to support a search are "drawn by a neutral and detached magistrate instead of being judged by the officer engaged in the often competitive enterprise of ferreting out crime." In the absence of a warrant, a search is reasonable only if it falls within a specific exception to the warrant requirement. 6/
Applying this framework, the Court unanimously held that police generally need a warrant to search a cellphone, The mere fact that it was acquired incident to an arrest is insufficient to justify rummaging though its contents.Thus, if Riley is any indication, Maryland v. King changed neither the basic framework of Fourth Amendment analysis nor the parameters of searches incident to arrest.

  1. 133 S. Ct. 1958 (2013).
  2. Erin Murphy, License, Registration, Cheek Swab: DNA Testing and the Divided Court, 127 Harv. L. Rev. 161 (2013).
  3. Tracey Maclin, Maryland v King: Terry v Ohio Redux, 2013 Supreme Court Review 359, 403.
  4. David H. Kaye, Why So Contrived? The Fourth Amendment and DNA Databases After Maryland v. King, 104 J. Crim. L. & Criminology 535 (2014); David H. Kaye, Maryland v. King Per Se Unreasonableness, the Golden Rule, and the Future of DNA Databases, 127 Harv. L. Rev. F. 39, 40, 42-43 (2013); Orin Kerr, A Few Thoughts on Maryland v. King, The Volokh Conspiracy, June 3, 2013 (“while King is very important from a practical standpoint, there isn’t a whole lot of academically-interesting stuff happening in the King opinions.”).
  5. 134 S. Ct. 2473 (2014).
  6. Id. at 248 (citations and internal quotation marks omitted)

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