Month: April 2018

DNA Collection After Serious Arrest Constitutional in California

When a person is arrested for a serious crime in California, the law now definitely allows for officers to not only fingerprint and photograph the arrestee as part of the booking process, it also allows for a DNA cheek swab to be taken as well.

Even though there are clearly privacy concerns with taking a DNA sample from an arrestee, in 2004, the California electorate approved a proposition that required felony arrestees, and convicts, to provide law enforcement a DNA sample. Refusal to comply is a misdemeanor.

What’s This Case About?

Shortly after the law went into effect in 2009, Defendant Mark Buza was arrested due to setting a police car on fire. Buza admitted to setting the fire as an act of protest. And in keeping with his apparent protesting nature, Buza refused to comply with the DNA sample requirement. However, after his conviction on the underlying crime, he complied after the court ordered that law enforcement could obtain the sample by force if he refused again.

Buza appealed the conviction on the misdemeanor charge to California appellate court, which actually found in his favor. That court ruled that:

[T]he DNA Act, to the extent it requires felony arrestees to submit a DNA sample for law enforcement 8 analysis and inclusion in the state and federal DNA databases, without independent suspicion, a warrant or even a judicial or grand jury determination of probable cause, unreasonably intrudes on such arrestees’ expectation of privacy and is invalid under the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution.

Unfortunately for Buza, an appeal of the appellate court decision was taken up to the state’s Supreme Court. While the case was pending, a U.S. Supreme Court case, Maryland v. King was decided, upholding a similar law over a Fourth Amendment challenge. SCOTUS held:

[W]hen officers make an arrest supported by probable cause to hold for a serious offense and they bring the suspect to the station to be detained in custody, taking and analyzing a cheek swab of the arrestee’s DNA is, like fingerprinting and photographing, a legitimate police booking procedure that is reasonable under the Fourth Amendment.

The state supreme court then remanded to the appellate court in light of King, but the appellate court affirmed its prior ruling using the California Constitution, which resulted in yet another appeal to the state supreme court. Unfortunately for Buza, the state’s high court reversed the appellate court, upholding the law as valid both under the U.S. and state constitutions.

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Court: Competency Hearing a Due Process Right

Derek Antonio Johnson was waiting in his cell for trial when he was beaten — by himself.

A guard said he was “head-butting” the ground, and slapping and punching himself at the same time. Bleeding from his eyebrow, his eye socket swollen and lacerated, Johnson did not make it to trial that day.

Johnson’s attorney said the man had a history of psychiatric problems, but the trial judge didn’t buy it. Johnson was just trying to work the system, the judge said.

No Competency Hearing

California’s Third District Court of Appeal said the judge erred. Johnson was not mentally competent to stand trial, the appeals court said, and it violated his due process rights not to hold a competency hearing.

When substantial evidence suggests a defendant might be competent, “due process dictates a full exploration of the defendant’s mental health to determine if, in fact, he or she is competent to stand trial,” the judges said.

In People v. Johnson, the evidence was substantial. Johnson engaged in multiple acts of self-mutilation, shouted to voices in his head, defecated in his pants, and was placed on suicide watch.

Despite Johnson’s strange behavior and his attorney’s request for a competency hearing, the judge proceeded without him. The jury convicted him in absentia.

Guilty of Mayhem

But even the crime Johnson committed was evidence of mental illness. He was found guilty of mayhem.

After a night of barhopping together, the court record says, Johnson and his girlfriend got into a fight. He jumped on her, and bit her repeatedly in the face.

With blood running from bites to her lips and eyelid, she escaped and went to the local emergency room. A doctor glued her eyebrow back together.

In reversing Johnson’s conviction, the appeals court said there was sufficient evidence of mayhem for any future prosecution.

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