By MADISON HIRNEISEN
THE CENTER SQUARE STAFF REPORTER
(The Center Square) — A sexual assault survivor whose DNA from her rape case was used by San Francisco police to arrest her in an unrelated crime is suing the city and county of San Francisco and several law enforcement officials.
The complaint, filed by a plaintiff identified as Jane Doe, states that the case exposes the San Francisco Police Department’s “shocking practice of placing crime victims’ DNA into a permanent database without the victims’ knowledge or consent” and allegedly testing the DNA for matches in unrelated cases.
In the case of Jane Doe, she provided a DNA sample to the department during an investigation into her sexual assault in 2016. In December 2021, the city and county of San Francisco used the stored DNA sample to arrest her on allegations of burglary after finding an alleged match with crime scene evidence, according to the complaint filed Monday in district court.
“While all charges stemming from this incident against Plaintiff Doe were eventually dropped, the appalling, exploitative, and unconstitutional nature of Defendants’ practice cannot be ignored,” the complaint states.
The city and county of San Francisco and several law enforcement officials are listed as plaintiffs in the suit. Former San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin exposed the San Francisco crime lab’s practice of logging sexual assault survivors’ data in a database used to identify crime suspects in March after he became aware of this case.
Federal law prohibits a victim’s DNA from being stored in the national Combined DNA Index System, but there is currently no corresponding California law to prohibit law enforcement databases from retaining a victim’s profile and searching it years later in unrelated cases, as previously reported by The Center Square.
Adante Pointer, who is Jane Doe’s attorney in the lawsuit, issued a statement Monday asserting that using the DNA from sexual assault victims to incriminate them in other cases “is not only ethically and legally wrong, but it destroys the very fabric of trust in the institutions that are supposed to protect such victims.”
“What sort of trust should this victim, and victims in the future, have in a city and in a police department that will unlawfully store their DNA and use it without their consent?” Mr. Pointer added.
Legislation introduced in response to Jane Doe’s situation was passed by lawmakers last month. The bill would require law enforcement to only use DNA samples collected from victims of alleged crimes for purposes related to the case being investigated and would prohibit law enforcement from comparing the DNA with other samples that do not relate to the incident being investigated.
Additionally, no law enforcement agency could include any of the DNA profiles in a database that would allow the profiles to be matched with DNA obtained from a crime scene under the legislation, which is currently awaiting Gov. Gavin Newsom’s consideration.
Madison Hirneisen covers California for The Center Square.