Thursday, November 03, 2011

News From California: People v. Buza

I subscribe to an interesting journal called Forensics and I came across an article that led me to a case from California that's of significance in the grand scheme of things in an interstate kind of way.

People v. Buza, 197 Cal. App. 4th 1424 (Cal. Ct. App. 2011)

Buza was arrested after being caught in the act of torching a police car and on arrival at the county jail, Buza was requested to give a DNA sample pursuant to Cal. Pen. Code section 296 which requires that people arrested for committing certain felonies provide a DNA sample. Buza refused, and was charged with a misdemeanor in addition to his arson charges.

The court of appeals evaluated the constitutionality of section 296 and found it wanting, stating that the requirement that felony arrestees to submit a DNA sample without independent suspicion, warrant or a determination of probable cause was an unreasonable intrusion into the arrestee's expectation of privacy, in violation of the 4th amendment's proscription against unreasonable searches and seizures.

The case is, of course, up for further appeal to the California Supremes, but it's significant for a few reasons.

First, the discussion of the issues involved is extensive even if you disagree with the court's holdings. Second, it presents the uncomfortable issue of whether a person implicated in another state on the basis of a DNA sample collected in the manner Buza objected to is entitled to a walk.

Our statute is simpler-samples are collected when a person's convicted of a felony or certain other offenses-but there's been a judicial determination of culpability under Iowa Code Chapter 81.

The DNA database, it will be remembered, led to the conviction of Martin Duffy for a 20 year old homicide. There, Duffy also argued that the collection of the DNA sample was an unconstitutional search but the court, relying on an earlier case, Bousman v. District Court,
held that the sampling procedure was reasonable-although the Bousman decision refers to an application for a nontestimonial identification under Iowa Code section 810 which has some guarantees built in.

The general opinion of the cases that have considered 81.2 seems to be that the investigatory potential of DNA is great while the intrusion required to take a buccal swab is very minimal.

Whether that would hold true in a case such as Buza's is another story. I think the California Supreme Court will affirm the constitutionality of section 296 because the intrusion is minimal and the state's interest in preventing violent crime by detecting offenders who've escaped arrest is compelling, to say the least.

And, of course, there's the odd coffee cup as well to be considered.