Author: Corona & Peabody

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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Photo, Close Enough to Identify CVS Clerk Selling Alcohol to Minor

Yesterday, you smiled for “Candid Camera.” Today, you smile for a selfie.

In any generation, however, you really don’t smile for a police officer who is taking your picture. That was the case for a CVS clerk caught selling alcohol to a minor in Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control v. Alcoholic Beverage Control Appeals Board.

Police had sent the teenager into the store as a decoy, then asked the clerk and the boy — beer in hand — to pose for a photo. That was good enough for identification, said California’s Third District Court of Appeal.

Photo Op

The clerk, working at a CVS store in South Lake Tahoe, was probably busy on May 2, 2015. When young Christian took a can of beer to the register, the clerk asked him for proof of birth date.

He said he was born on Nov. 27, 1996, which made him 18 years old at the time. The clerk — apparently not hired for accounting — sold him the beer.

Christian went outside and told the police officer, who had used him as a decoy. They went inside; the boy pointed out the clerk; and the officer told the clerk she had sold alcohol to a minor.

The clerk “freaked out” and apologized, then the officer asked her and Christian to pose for a photo. That led to administrative action against CVS; it could also have been contributing to the delinquency of a minor for the clerk.

Administrative Action

CVS appealed the suspension of its liquor license, arguing that administrative procedure required a face-to-face identification of the clerk. The minor had merely pointed her out from 10 feet away, CVS argued.

The Third District noted that the Supreme Court upheld the use of minors as decoys in Provigo Corp. v. Alcoholic Beverage Control Appeals Board. And the CVS clerk and the minor were in “reasonable proximity” when the teenager pointed her out.

“The clerk in these circumstances certainly knew or reasonably ought to have known that she was being identified,” the appeals court said.

Not to mention, she posed for a “sober” photo with him.

‘Booster Bag’ Not a Burglary Tool, Court Rules

When a shoplifter stoops to stealing clothes, you gotta feel a little sorry for him or her.

And when he falls to the ground convulsing, it’s almost a tragedy. But when it turns out he used a special bag to get the merchandise through electronic sensors, that’s a different story.

And so a jury convicted the California man of burglary, grand theft, and possessing burglary tools. The Second District Court of Appeal reversed the “tools” conviction, but compassion had nothing to do with it.

Burglary Tools

Penal Code Section 446 includes items used to gain access into property, but some courts disagree whether that applies to tools used after a would-be criminal gets inside a property. The state Supreme Court is considering the question in In re H.W.

In the meantime, Linda — a transgender man who goes by the name James — strolled into a Macy’s department store, put a stack of jeans into a bag and walked out. A security guard witnessed the theft, and chased him down.

Shaw resisted, fell to the ground and started convulsing. Security took the bag, which had 11 pairs of True Religion jeans inside a secondary bag lined with foil.

At trial, the guard testified that the foil-lined bag — called a “booster bag” — was used to trick electronic sensors. Shaw was convicted of all charges and placed on probation for two years.

Booster Bag

In People v. Linda Shaw, the defendant argued that the booster bag was not a tool under the statute. The Second District agreed.

The appeals court disagreed with the Third District decision in H.W., which said a pair of pliers used to cut security tags off a pair of jeans was a burglary tool. Instead, the justices followed People v. Diaz.

“We find the reasoning of Diaz to be more persuasive, and we agree with its holding that an ‘instrument or tool’ under section 466 is an item intended for use ‘to break into or gain access to property,’ not just intended for ‘use during the course of a burglary,” the panel said.

New California Laws Ease Fines, Punishment for Juveniles

California Gov. Jerry Brown signed 11 crime bills aimed at lowering fines and punishments for juveniles and other offenders.

Most of the legislation helps young people charged with crimes, including one bill that limits counties and cities from collecting fees from families with children in juvenile detention. Parents and guardians will no longer be charged for juvenile hall expenses, such as housing, food, drugs, tests, and transportation.

Lawmakers said juvenile penalties and fines have mostly affected low-income and minority families. The legislation follows a recent pattern in the Golden State to help people who are “paying more for being poor.”