On Monday, the San Francisco court system was hit with a complaint from a rape victim whose DNA was utilized in an unrelated property crime arrest based on evidence from her sexual assault case.
A search of the DNA database at the San Francisco Police Department’s crime lab linked the woman to a burglary that occurred in the latter half of 2021. In a stunning disclosure that prompted privacy concerns in February, then-District Attorney Chesa Boudin claimed that her DNA had been captured and stored in the system as part of a domestic violence and sexual assault case from 2016.
Attorney Adante Pointer said in a statement, “This is government overreach of the highest order, using the most unique and personal thing we have — our genetic code — without our permission to attempt and connect us to crime.”
Advocates, law police, legal experts, and legislators all voiced their dismay at the news. Proponents of the approach have expressed concern that it may discourage victims from reporting crimes.
Federal legislation currently prohibits the inclusion of victims’ DNA in the national Combined DNA Index System. The retention of victim profiles in local law enforcement databases and subsequent searches for unrelated purposes, even years later, is not prohibited by any similar law in California.
Legislators in California just last month adopted a bill that would make it illegal for law enforcement to use DNA profiles taken from victims of sexual assault or other crimes for any reason other than to help identify the perpetrator. Local law enforcement agencies would also be forbidden from collecting and subsequently scanning victim DNA to implicate them in unrelated crimes under the measure, which is now before Gov. Gavin Newsom.
A woman was recently charged with a felony property offence, and according to Boudin, the report was among hundreds of pages of evidence against her. When Boudin found out where the DNA evidence originated from, he decided to withdraw the felony property crime charges against the woman.
After receiving a complaint from the DA’s office, the police department’s crime lab formally amended its operating process to prevent the misuse of DNA collected from sexual assault victims, according to Police Chief Bill Scott.
Scott revealed at a police commission meeting in March that he had uncovered 17 crime victim profiles, 11 of them from rape kits, that were linked as prospective suspects utilizing a crime victims database during unrelated investigations. After the complaint was filed on Monday, Scott said he believes just the woman was arrested.
According to Pointer, the AP typically does not identify persons who believe they have been sexually assaulted unless they desire to be named, which is why the woman filed the case using the moniker Jane Doe to safeguard her privacy.
In California, county and city police departments are authorized to maintain their own forensic databases in addition to using federal and state resources. This law also allows local police departments to conduct their own forensic investigations, including DNA profiling, and to access state and federal crime database systems without oversight.