Thursday, September 10, 2015

Some guidelines for obtaining DNA samples from sworn officers “to protect the crime scene”


Some guidelines for obtaining DNA samples from sworn officers “to protect the crime scene”
Bill v Brewer, USCA, 9th Circuit, Docket #13-15844

In this civil rights action brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §1983 by three Phoenix police officers, the United States Court of Appeals for the 9thCircuit affirmed a federal district court’s dismissal of their complaint. The three police officers had alleged that two other Phoenix police officers violated their rights under the Fourth* and Fourteenth** Amendments as the result of their obtaining DNA samples from the three officers for the purpose of excluding them as contributors of DNA at a crime scene.***

Noting that the samples had been obtained pursuant to an Arizona state court order, the Circuit Court ruled that a state court’s order authorizing the collection of DNA samples satisfied the Warrant Clause of the Fourth Amendment.

The Circuit Court also held that it was not unreasonable, under the circumstances, to ask sworn officers to provide saliva samples for the sole purpose of demonstrating that the DNA left at a crime scene was not the result of inadvertent contamination by on-duty public safety personnel.

The court explained that “The policeman’s employment relationship by its nature implies that in certain aspects of his [or her] affairs, he [or she] does not have the full privacy and liberty from police officials that he [or she] would otherwise enjoy.” It was hardly unreasonable here, said the court, to ask sworn officers to provide saliva samples for the sole purpose of demonstrating that DNA left at a crime scene was not the result of inadvertent contamination by on-duty public safety personnel.”

Although the Circuit Court said that it shared the police officers’ concerns “over potential misuse of DNA samples to reveal private information about contributors,” the court observed that “no such danger is realistically posed” in this situation as the memorandum concerning obtaining such DNA samples “expressly guarantees” that the DNA samples taken from the police officers would be used” for comparison to evidence in this report only” and would not be used for any research type testing, including race, ethnicity or health, provided to any outside organization for those purposes, entered into the employee database, or entered into CODIS, the Combined DNA Index System.**** 

The court noted that the police officers had not alleged “any plausible reason to believe that the Phoenix Police Department will not abide by these limitations,” and the federal district court did not err in declining to speculate about possible future abuse.

* The Fourth Amendment prohibits the unreasonable search of persons. The police officers alleged “obtaining, analyzing, and retaining” their DNA samples violated their rights under the Fourth Amendment.

** The Circuit Court did not specifically address the police officers’ Fourteenth Amendment arguments which presumably contended that the taking of the DNA samples violated their right to “due process.”

*** The samples had been obtained pursuant to an Arizona state court order.

**** CODIS is “a centrally-managed database linking DNA profiles culled from federal, state, and territorial DNA collection programs, as well as profiles drawn from crime-scene evidence, unidentified remains, and genetic samples voluntarily provided by relatives of missing persons.”

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