AELE LAW LIBRARY OF CASE SUMMARIES:
Civil Liability of Law Enforcement Agencies & Personnel
DNA Testing & Issues
Two officers pulled over an 18-year-old male motorist for having a missing front license plate. They claimed that he fired a weapon towards their squad car and then ran away. They shot him three times in the back and he subsequently died. Two eyewitnesses testified that they thought that the motorist had no weapon. The defendants offered testimony that gunshot residue was found on the decedent’s hand and that casings were found at the site from which he shot. The gun found near the decedent was swabbed for DNA, but the samples were never tested by the state police. A jury returned a verdict for the defendant officers in an excessive force lawsuit. A federal appeals court upheld this result. It rejected an argument that the trial judge erroneously excluded evidence and argument concerning the failure to test the DNA swabs. The sole relevant issue was whether or not the officers were justified in shooting the decedent. A lack of DNA evidence, by itself, did not tend to prove or disprove justification. Further, nothing linked the officers who shot the decedent to the missing DNA evidence, and it would be unfair to assume that testing the DNA swabs would have helped or harmed the plaintiff’s case. Mitchell v. City of Chicago, #14-2957, 2017 U.S. App. Lexis 11958 (7th Cir.).
A man served his full ten year
sentence for rape and residential burglary, after which his conviction was
vacated because of newly available DNA evidence. He sued a police detective
involved in his case, accusing him of fabrication of evidence. Overturning a
trial court's dismissal of the lawsuit, a federal appeals court found that the
claim did not accrue until the plaintiff was acquitted of all charges, so that
the lawsuit was filed in a timely fashion within the applicable three year
statute of limitations and was not time barred. The appeals court did not
address the detective's qualified immunity defense, as the court below had not
reached the issue. Bradford v. Scherschligt, #14-35651, 803 F.3d 382 (9th Cir.
A man was convicted of rape and murder, with the evidence against him including testimony and confessions from his five co-defendants, all of whom pled guilty to various charges in connection with the crime. 19 years later, based on DNA testing, all the convictions were pardoned or overturned. They sued the county and officers involved in the case, and in earlier proceedings, it was determined that their “evidence is sufficient to support plaintiffs’ claims that their rights to fair criminal proceedings were violated as the result of a reckless investigation and defendants’ manufacturing of false evidence,”that the evidence was sufficient to support a conspiracy claim, but was not sufficient to support a coercion claim; that members of the sheriff’s office were not protected by qualified immunity; and that the county attorney was protected by absolute immunity. A federal appeals court affirmed the denial of qualified immunity to the officers, and ruled that claims against the county should not have been rejected, since the plaintiffs “produced proof of questionable procedures” and “hasty condemnation” by officers in charge of policy-making. There was sufficient evidence that the sheriff was a final policymaker for the county, and created its applicable policies, supervised officers, and encouraged, directed, and endorsed their activities. Dean v. Cnty. of Gage, #14-1747, 800 F.3d 945 (8th Cir. 2015).
A number of police officers claimed that two other officers violated their Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights when they complied with a court order to obtain DNA samples from them to exclude them as possible contributors of DNA at a crime scene. The samples were of saliva, obtained by use ol a mouth swab. A federal appeals court ruled that the court order in question satisfied the Warrant Clause of the Fourth Amendment, and that no undue intrusion occurred as the use of buccal swabs was brief and minimal, intrusions that involve almost no risk, trauma, or pain. As to a reasonable expectation of privacy, it was reasonable to require officers to produce such samples to to demonstrate that DNA left at a crime scene was not theirs and was not the result of inadvertent contamination of the crime scene by on-duty officers. Bill v. Brewer, #13-15844, 799 F.3d 1295 (9th Cir. 2015).
A $20 million settlement as been reached in a wrongful conviction lawsuit brought by a man who spent 20 years in prison on a life sentence for the rape and murder of an 11-year-old girl before DNA evidence pointed to someone else as the culpable party. The settlement will be paid by county law enforcement and law enforcement agencies from a number of towns involved in the investigation. The lawsuit claimed that a confession given by the plaintiff was not true and was coerced as a result of four straight days of interrogation, including one session that lasted 24 hours. The girl's blood soaked shoes, which had blood from the rapist/murderer, were ever introduced in evidence at trial, which the lawsuit pointed to as proof that the prosecution was a "frame-up." The plaintiff was convicted three separate times in jury trials before being exonerated. The settlement is reportedly the largest wrongful conviction settlement for an individual person in the U.S. Rivera v. Lake County Illinois, #1:12-cv-08665, U.S. Dist. Ct. (N.D. Ill. March 20, 2015).
A D.C. prisoner was incarcerated for over two decades in both federal and state prisons on a conviction for raping and robbing a woman in 1981 when he was 18. After his parole, he was required to register as a sex offender, limting his employment, housing, and other opportunities. During his incarceration, he suffered multiple instances of sexual and physical assaults, and contracted HIV. In 2012, at the age of 50, he was exonerated and determined to be actually innocent of the robbery and rape, based on DNA evidence. He reached a settlement of claims against the fedeeral government under the Unjust Convictions Act, 28 U.S.C. Secs. 1495 and 25a3, and the Federal Tort Claims Act, 28 U.S.C. Sec. 2671 et seq. of $1,128,082.19, based on $50,000 times the 22.56 years he was incarcerated. Continuing to pursue his claims against the District of Columbia inder the D.C. Unjust Imprisonment Act, D.C. Code Sec. 2-421 et. seq., he was awarded $9,154,500 in damages for wrongful conviction, unjust imprisonment, sexual and physical assaults, contracting HIV, lost income, and physcal and psychological injuries. A D.ZC. court found that his wrongful conviction and unjust imprisonment had been a proximate cause of all these damages. It also rejected an argument that D.C. was entitled to an offset from the award for the amount of the plaintiff's settlement with the federal government. Odom v. District of Columbia, #2013-CA-3239, 2015 D.C. Super. Lexis 2.
A rape victim and another witness identified a man as her assailant. While the police collected a rape kit with pubic and head hair and swabs, it was not tested for DNA, and the man was convicted. Years later, the kit was tested under court order, and it was determined that it contained no testable spermatozoa. Still later, based on a new law, the man sought further testing, claiming that new technology enabled testing of samples previously deemed inadequate. The kit could not be found, and the prosecutor's office indicated that it must have been destroyed, pointing both to an earlier fire and a practice of the property clerk of destroying records after six years. Years later on, the evidence was found, tested, and it was determined that the DNA did not match the man, and his conviction was vacated. In a lawsuit claiming that an inadequate evidence system had deprived him of due process and access to the courts, a federal appeals court overturned a trial court order setting aside an $18 million verdict in the plaintiff's favor against the city. It held that, under New York law, a convicted prisoner has a liberty interest in demonstrating his innocence with newly available DNA evidence and is entitled to reasonable procedures that facilitate him vindicating that interest. There was evidence that the police department's failure to adequately track evidence was pervasive. The jury's verdict on the due process claim was reinstated, and, on remand, further proceedings were ordered on the plaintiff's First Amendment claim for denial of his right of access to the courts. Newton v. City of New York, #11-2610, 2015 U.S. App. Lexis 2835 (2nd Cir.)
A federal appeals court has upheld a $7 million damage award against two police officers who were accused of having framed a mentally challenged man with an IQ of 67 for the brutal rape, multiple stabbings, and murder of a 58-year-old woman. He was exonerated of any involvement in the crime through DNA testing after almost 26 years in prison. The officers allegedly spent hours alone with him after his arrest in 1983, telling the then 15-year-old boy information about the crime scene and then "tricking" him into repeating the information back in a manner that looked ike a confession. The jury's award is against the officers personally, with one liable for $4 million and the other for $3 million. Spadaro v. City of Miramar, #13-14884, 2015 U.S. App. Lexis 932 (Unpub. 11th Cir.). The facts of the case are covered in a prior decision. Spadaro v. City of Miramar, #11-61607, 2013 U.S. Dist. Lexis 16714 (S.D. Fla.).
Officers who make a lawful arrest for a serious offense may take and analyze a cheek swab of the arrestee's DNA. Like fingerprinting and photographing, it is a legitimate police booking procedure that is reasonable under the Fourth Amendment. Maryland v. King, #12-207, 2013 U.S. Lexis 4165.
A man arrested and convicted of sexual assault had his conviction overturned when DNA testing indicated that his uncle, rather than he, was the guilty party. Despite this, his malicious prosecution lawsuit against the police was properly dismissed, since, based on the evidence they had at the time, they had probable cause to arrest him, even if they were ultimately mistaken. Under these circumstances, they had no improper malice towards him, and did nothing improper. Holland v. City of Chicago, #09-3905, 2011 U.S. App. Lexis 12688 (7th Cir.).
A man sentenced to death after being convicted of murdering his girlfriend sought to challenge his conviction in Texas state court by seeking DNA testing of various untested evidence from the crime scene, including knives, an axe handle, vaginal swabs, fingernail clippings, and certain hair samples. State courts rejected his plea for DNA testing, finding that he had not made a required showing that he "would not have been convicted if exculpatory results had been obtained through DNA testing." He then filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the prosecutor, seeking injunctive relief requiring the DNA tests. By a 6-3 vote, the U.S, Supreme Court held that claims concerning the right to DNA testing could be asserted not only in habeas corpus proceedings, but also in federal civil rights lawsuits. Success in having the testing done would not necessarily imply the invalidity of the plaintiff's conviction. The Court therefore ordered further proceedings on the merits of the plaintiff's claim that denying him the DNA testing violated his due process rights. . Skinner v. Switzer, #09-9000, 2011 U.S. Lexis 1905.
A man being prosecuted for armed bank robbery was granted a motion to suppress a sample of his DNA to compare with DNA found in a van believed to have been used by the robber, on the ground that it had been obtained by way of a materially and recklessly false warrant affidavit, in violation of the Fourth Amendment. A paragraph in the affidavit was false, as it misrepresented that police interviews of "various witnesses" had observed a stolen van meeting up with a silver Volkswagen van following the robbery. The officer writing the affidavit had not participated in interviewing the witnesses or read the written witness statements, and did not review the investigation reports in any detail. The officer's drafting of the affidavit went beyond simple negligence into recklessness, as it could be said that he had no evidentiary basis at all for making the statement concerning the van. U.S. v. Brown, #09-3643, 2011 U.S. App. Lexis 1059 (3rd Cir.).
A man was convicted of rape and kidnapping on the basis of testimony by a police forensic chemist that hair and semen found at the scene of the crime were consistent with samples taken from him. Seventeen years later, the man's conviction was vacated based on exculpatory DNA results. The chemist's own lab tests indicated that she should have excluded him as a possible suspect. In a federal civil rights lawsuit against the chemist and the city that employed her, the arrestee was awarded $16.5 million against the chemist. The city was found not liable. The chemist filed an indemnification cross-claim against the city, but settled it for $23,364.29 without the plaintiff's participation. A federal appeals court has upheld the trial court's rejection of the plaintiff's attempt to directly seek indemnification on his judgment against the chemist from the city, since there was no evidence of deliberate indifference by the city and the plaintiff was not the real party in interest on the chemist's indemnification cross-claim. Bryson v. Oklahoma City, #09-6143, 2010 U.S. App. Lexis 24822 (10th Cir.).
In a case involving a prosecution for a number of sexual offenses, the California Supreme Court approved the use of a "John Doe, unknown male" arrest warrant, describing the wanted person by his unique 13-loci deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) profile. The warrant was issued in this manner, as the statute of limitations for attempting to prosecute the offenses would have otherwise been exceeded.. Peo. v. Robinson, #S158528, 47 Cal. 4th 1104, 224 P.3d 55 (Cal. 2010).
A man was convicted of a murder and jailed for ten years. Ultimately, he was exonerated based on post-trial DNA testing carried out by the district attorneys' office. He sued, contending that his rights were violated by a 72-day delay in informing him or his lawyer of the exculpatory results. A federal appeals court ruled that prosecutors were entitled to absolute immunity from liability because their actions were integrally connected to their role as advocates for the state in post-conviction proceedings. An order denying the defendant county's motion to dismiss was not immediately appealable. Warney v. Monroe County, #08-0947, 2009 U.S. App. Lexis 24914 (2nd Cir.).
An inmate claimed that Pennsylvania's refusal to allow him to conduct post-conviction DNA testing on evidence in his criminal case violated his due process rights. The federal appeals court noted that the U.S. Supreme Court rejected that argument in District Attorney's Office for the Third Judicial Circuit v. Osborne, #08–6, 2009 U.S. Lexis 4536, and that there is no federal constitutional right to such testing. Young v. Philadelphia County District Attorney's Office, #09-1668, 2009 U.S. App. Lexis 17799 (Unpub. 3rd Cir.).
A federal court has held that police can lawfully forcibly take DNA samples, including by drawing blood with a needle, from persons who have been arrested but not convicted of any crime. The court upheld a federal statute allowing the gathering of such samples from those arrested for a felony. The court rejected claims that taking such samples was overly intrusive or violates the Fourth Amendment. U.S.A. v Pool, #CR09-0015, (E.D. Cal.).
A man was convicted of kidnapping, sexual assault, and assault after the prosecution elected not to conduct DNA testing on materials from the victim's person and her clothing. His requests for DNA testing in connection with post-conviction proceedings were denied in state court. In a federal civil rights lawsuit seeking access to the materials for DNA testing, denying this request, a federal appeals court ruled that there is no due process right to post-conviction access to evidence for DNA testing, and nothing constitutionally inadequate in Colorado's post-conviction procedures applied in this context. McDaniel v. Suthers, #08-1400, 2009 U.S. App. Lexis 13613 (10th Cir.).
Qualified immunity was improperly granted in a lawsuit over the forcible taking of a DNA sample from a pretrial detainee merely because a prosecutor wanted to put the sample in a "cold case" data bank. At the time, the court stated, there was no warrant or court order authorizing the taking of the sample, nor was the detainee suspected of a crime for which a DNA sample might be justified. An officer allegedly forced his jaw open and forcefully took a swab from the inside of his mouth. If true, this action violated the detainee's clearly established Fourth Amendment rights. Friedman v. Boucher, No. 05-15675, 2009 U.S. App. Lexis 13440 (9th Cir.). .
The U.S. Supreme Court, in a federal civil rights lawsuit brought by a man convicted of sexual assault and other crimes, held that the plaintiff had no constitutional right to post-conviction access to the state's evidence for DNA testing for the purpose of attempting to prove his innocence. The Court also reasoned that it was a legislative task to develop procedures and rules for obtaining access to such evidence for DNA testing. District Attorney's Office for the Third Judicial Circuit v. Osborne, #08–6, 2009 U.S. Lexis 4536.
The U.S. Supreme Court has announced that it will decide whether a man convicted of sexual assault and kidnapping fourteen years ago has a constitutional right to access to DNA from physical evidence collected in the case for the purpose of conducting tests which he claims will show his innocence, but which were not possible scientifically to perform at the time of his trial. District Attorney's Office v. Osborne, # 08-06, cert. granted, Nov. 3, 2008. Case below: Osborne v. District Attorney's Office, #06-35875, 521 F.3d 1118 (9th Cir. 2008).
While plaintiff's claim that denial of access to physical evidence which was the basis for his murder conviction stated circumstances which might violate his constitutional rights, his claim was time-barred under a two-year statute of limitations which began to run on the date that a state court denied his request for access to the physical evidence for purposes of DNA testing. Savory v. Lyons, No. 06-1296 (7th Cir. November 29, 2006). [N/R]
Arrestee had no constitutional right to pre-trial DNA testing, even though failure to do requested test allegedly delayed his release from detention for twenty-two months. Jimenez v. State of New Jersey, 245 F. Supp. 2d 584 (D. N.J. 2003). [2003 LR Jul]
Court defers to legislature the issue of the potential constitutional right to post-conviction DNA testing for persons convicted of federal crimes and declines to fashion a broad constitutional due process right of access to DNA testing. Harvey v. Horan, 278 F.3d 370 (4th Cir. 2002) [N/R]
Florida state DNA testing statute upheld against state constitutional privacy challenge. Requirement that all felons convicted of certain offenses undergo a DNA blood test also did not violate a juvenile felon's Fourth Amendment rights, since the public's legitimate interests in identifying the perpetrators of crime, absolving the innocent, and preventing recidivism outweighed a felon's diminished expectation of privacy. L.S. v. State of Florida, 805 So. 2d 1004 (Fla. App. 2001). [N/R]