Supreme Court to hear DNA case
WASHINGTON — On a cold February night three years ago, police in suburban Arlington, Va., received a frantic call. A young woman said her roommate had been abducted at gunpoint by a short, clean-shaven man who sped away in a silver sport utility vehicle.
At dawn, a motorist spotted the victim in a snowy field near a highway, raped and strangled but alive. An alert officer, hearing the lookout report, recalled that he had jotted down the license tag of a silver Dodge Durango whose driver lurked near bars at midnight, leading to the quick arrest of Jorge Torrez.
Ten years ago, Virginia became the first state to require, upon arrest for a serious crime, a mouth swab for DNA. The sample from Torrez, sent to a state crime lab and entered into the FBI's DNA database, confirmed he was the rapist. A few weeks later a DNA match also led to charges against him in the rape and murder of two girls, ages 8 and 9, in Zion, Ill., where Torrez had gone to high school. Jerry Hobbs, the father of one of the girls, had been in prison for the crimes.
This month, the U.S. Supreme Court will take up a privacy rights challenge to taking DNA from people who are arrested. The case could either end the practice or make it the norm nationwide.
Arlington County Deputy police Chief Daniel Murray says the Torrez case shows the value of taking DNA when someone is arrested for a serious crime. And in this instance, he said, the DNA match freed an innocent man.
Nationwide, DNA samples are taken from people who are convicted of violent crimes.
The federal government and 28 states take DNA samples from some or all who are arrested but not yet convicted of serious crimes. Besides taking fingerprints, the standard jail booking often includes taking a DNA swab, which prosecutors say is as simple and painless as brushing your teeth.
Last month, President Obama signed into law the Katie Sepich Enhanced DNA Collection Act, which will help pay the startup costs for other states to begin testing people who are arrested.
“The whole purpose of this is to find serial rapists and murderers and to get them early to save innocent lives,” said Jayann Sepich, a New Mexico mother whose daughter, Katie, was raped and murdered.
Her attacker was arrested several times, but he was not identified until he was convicted of another crime and his DNA was taken.
The justices will hear the case of Maryland vs. King to decide whether requiring DNA from someone taken into custody but not convicted is an “unreasonable search” forbidden by the Fourth Amendment.
In 2009, Alonzo King of Salisbury, Md., was arrested for waving a shotgun in a threatening manner. That was a felony charge, calling for a DNA test. He later pleaded guilty to a lesser charge for which no DNA test was required. But the earlier DNA sample pointed to him as the man who had broken into a house and raped a woman six years earlier. King was convicted and given a life term.
Maryland's high court threw out his conviction and ruled police may not take DNA without a search warrant and some reason to believe the suspect committed another offense.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Feds weighed national standards but let North Dakota set regulations for oil trains’ safety
- Young white males replace older black men as OD victims as heroin deaths climb
- Reports: Actor Ford seriously injured in small-plane crash in L.A.
- Latest winter blast strands airline passengers, motorists
- Weapon supply vulnerable to hackers, Pentagon official warns
- Dig uncovers ancient stone tool in eastern Oregon
- Gag order overturned in Upper Big Branch case
- McConnell punts on Iran review bill
- Lawmakers move to require schools to teach cursive amid Common Core wrangling
- Appeals court tosses gag order in ex-coal company CEO’s case
- Raw milk has little evidence of antibiotics, FDA survey finds