Maryland Court of Appeals rules state can test cup in detainee's cell for DNA

By Correy Stephenson

The Daily Record Newswire

Obtaining an abandoned cup used by a detainee in a holding cell and testing it for DNA did not violate the Fourth Amendment, Maryland's highest court has ruled.

A man was detained in a cell and offered a meal while awaiting booking.

He ate the meal and discarded the wrappers and cup on the floor.

When he left the cell, a police officer retrieved the cup and took it to the crime lab, where it was tested for DNA.

The DNA matched a profile in the system and the man was charged with rape and assault.

He sought to suppress the DNA evidence, arguing that it was illegally seized without a warrant in what he termed "police-created abandonment."

But the court disagreed, affirming his conviction.

"[The defendant] unequivocally abandoned the ... cup after he had been offered a meal, accepted it, and then threw the debris from the meal on the floor.

"He certainly did not retain the cup as his own and clearly, while in the premises of the prison, could not reasonably expect that the police would not collect, and potentially investigate, the trash he discarded in his cell," the court said.

Further, the abandonment of the cup also constituted abandonment of the genetic material, the court said, and the state did not need a search warrant to gather the DNA.

"It would be anomalous, indeed, for us to hold that a warrant would be necessary to analyze the contents of lawfully acquired abandoned property - property in which the previous owner did not retain a reasonable expectation of privacy," the

court said.

It cited similar decisions from Idaho, Kansas, Massachusetts, New York and Washington.

Maryland Court of Appeals. Williamson v. State, No. 61. April 22, 2010. Lawyers USA No. 993-1864.

Published: Thu, May 13, 2010

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