In June 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a ruling in the case of Maryland v. King that could make DNA testing a part of routine police booking procedure. The case involved Alonzo J. King, who was arrested for a 2009 assault in Maryland. The police took a cheek swab and found that King’s DNA profile matched evidence from a 2003 rape case. King was convicted of the rape, but the Maryland Court of Appeals ruled that the DNA collection violated the Fourth Amendment. The Supreme Court reinstated King’s conviction, voting 5-4 that collecting a DNA swab was no more invasive than collecting fingerprints.
Criminal justice degree students should become familiar with how to perform a basic cheek, or buccal, swab. You can discover more here about earning an online criminal justice degree. In your program, you may learn how to incorporate cheek swabbing into standard booking procedure.
Prepping a Buccal Swab Kit
Forensic scientist Chantel Marie Giamanco suggests preparing a kit in advance of taking a buccal swab. The kit should contain the following items:
- Written directions
- Two swabs in sealed packaging
- Two pairs of latex gloves
- Collection envelope
- Evidence tape for sealing the envelope
When booking an arrestee, having a large store of prepared kits on-hand can simplify the swabbing process. Also, training a certain set of personnel to conduct the swabs and giving only those personnel authorized access to the prepared kits can preserve the integrity of the evidence chain.
Step 1: Verification
If you’ve ever had blood work performed, then you’ve probably noticed that your phlebotomist confirms that the name on your medical paperwork matches the name on the labels of her blood samples. This standard lab procedure should be part of any police buccal swabbing process. If you’re incorporating swabbing during the booking process similar to the way you would automatically take fingerprints, then take time to verify the suspect’s paperwork and photo identification, if available, before collecting the swab.
Alternatively, when you’re taking the swab after the suspect has already been placed in a holding facility, check the suspect’s jail or prison identification, verifying both the name and the booking number. Make sure that the information on the identification matches all labeling on the kit. You may also take a photo of the suspect’s identification and a quick headshot of the suspect.
Step 2: Preparation
Some statutes have required suspects to sign a consent form before police could collect DNA samples. That requirement should be rendered null and void by Maryland v. King, but always confirm your statute before skipping this step. Follow this procedure to prepare the suspect for the test:
- Check that the suspect’s mouth is empty. Ideally, the suspect should not consume food or beverages, chew gum or smoke tobacco products for at least four hours before the test. However, not all situations are ideal, so just make sure the mouth is empty.
- Ask the suspect to rinse his or her mouth with water. Do not allow the use toothpaste or mouthwash.
- Put on the gloves and the mask. Inform the suspect that you will rub a swab against the inside of his or her cheek for five to 10 seconds. Tell the suspect that the test is painless.
Step 3: Collection
Open the package that contains the swabs, being careful not to touch the actual swab. Rub the swab against the suspect’s cheek for five to 10 seconds. Avoid rushing the process because you may not obtain enough cells if you only do a quick swipe.
After you’ve collected the sample, immediately place the swab into the receptacle that came with the original packaging. Some swab packaging may come with a desiccant packet to absorb extra moisture, and you can keep the packet in the receptacle. Avoid waving the swab into the air to dry it out. It should dry out naturally in the envelope.
Step 4: Packaging and Storage
After you’ve sealed the swab receptacle, label the collection envelope with all information required by statute. This information may include:
- Suspect’s name
- Time and date of collection
- Place of collection
- Name of the person that performed the collection
Seal the envelope with evidence tape. Then, date and initial the tape to preserve the chain of custody. Store the swab at room temperature until you can place it in a freezer.
About the Author: Jessica Shandling is pursuing a second MS in Human Genetics — she already holds a master’s of criminal justice. Currently, she is preparing a master’s thesis on Maryland v. King and its implications for the legal system.