CrimProf Blog

Editor: Kevin Cole
Univ. of San Diego School of Law

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Washington Supreme Court Upholds Police Tricks to get DNA

From Seattle police detectives' elaborate trick to get a murder suspect's DNA was upheld Thursday by the state Supreme Court, a ruling that could give police more leeway and raise privacy concerns.

The 6-3 majority found that the DNA evidence was properly used against John Athan, who was convicted in 2004 of killing a 13-year-old Magnolia girl more than two decades earlier.

"Although the ruse used by detectives in this case violated certain statutes, it was not so outrageous or shocking as to warrant dismissing the case," Justice Charles Johnson wrote.

Athan licked a return envelope a few years ago because he thought he was taking part in a class-action lawsuit over parking tickets. Instead, he'd fallen for a police trick -- a letter from a fake law firm -- aimed at getting a sample of his DNA.

On Thursday, the court found that "no recognized privacy interest exists in voluntarily discarded saliva." What police did was similar to collecting DNA after someone spits on the sidewalk or leaves a cigarette butt in an ashtray, Johnson wrote.

The court also had no problem with police posing as attorneys in the case, because the letter did not ask Athan to provide any information that a lawyer would be required to keep confidential.

Rest of Article. . . [Mark Godsey]

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