Search Warrant Justified to Obtain a DNA Sample from an Uncooperative Victim

G.B.’s “occasional sexual partner” cut him with a kitchen knife after she learned that he had slept with another woman. G.B. sought medical help at a fire station. Police officers went to the hospital and interviewed G.B., who identified his assailant and provided the address of the apartment where the stabbing occurred. He told the officers that he didn’t want any action taken over the stabbing.

Officers went to the apartment and saw blood drops on the floor and a bloody doormat in the trash can. A witness told police that he saw a woman slash G.B. Officers searched that woman’s car and found blood. They asked G.B. for a DNA sample to compare to the blood found in the car. G.B. refused.

Officers sought a search warrant for a buccal swab of G.B. A judge found that probable cause existed to believe that “on the person of … there is now being concealed evidence, namely the victim’s cheek cells/saliva,” and the judge issued a search warrant. G.B. challenged the search warrant, claiming that forcibly taking a buccal swab sample to extract DNA from a crime victim is improper.

The court held that “the probable cause to search is not negated because G.B. is a third party to the criminal proceeding.” To determine the constitutionality of a search, the court weighs the reasonableness of the search, assessing the scope and manner of execution. In this case, the intrusion involved (a quick and painless buccal swab) was minimally invasive. Moreover, the court imposed tight restrictions on how the DNA profile could be used. The government could not use the sample to show that G.B. committed perjury and could not enter the profile into any database. The sample was also to be destroyed after the prosecution of G.B.’s assailant.

Most victims of violent crime are not so tight-lipped about their assailants. As this case shows, when victims do refuse to provide a DNA sample—such as in cases where the victim is a gang member or someone involved in a romantic dispute—the mere status as a victim and not a perpetrator won’t prevent officers from obtaining a search warrant.

In re Grand Jury Witness G.B., 2016 WL 3031604 (D.C. Ct. App. 2016)

Ken Wallentine

KEN WALLENTINE is the Chief of the West Jordan (Utah) Police Department and former Chief of Law Enforcement for the Utah Attorney General. He has served over four decades in public safety, is a legal expert and editor of Xiphos, a monthly national criminal procedure newsletter. He is a member of the Board of Directors of the Institute for the Prevention of In-Custody Death and serves as a use of force consultant in state and federal criminal and civil litigation across the nation.

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