SAN FRANCISCO (KRON) — The City of San Francisco is facing a lawsuit from a sexual assault victim whose rape kit DNA was used to charge her with a property theft in 2016, according to a press release from the victim’s attorney.
The suit was filed on behalf of Jane Doe–an alias used to protect the identity of the sexual assault victim–in U.S. District Court in San Francisco. Civil rights attorney Adanté Pointer of Oakland’s Pointer & Buelna LLP, is representing Doe in the case. “This unethical use of DNA samples violates crime victims’ federally guaranteed Fourth Amendment rights against unlawful search and seizure. This is a clear example of government overreach,” Pointer said.
In 2016, Doe gave a DNA sample to members of the San Francisco Police Department for an investigation into her sexual assault. According to the lawsuit, the state’s patient consent form used when collecting samples from sex crime victims doesn’t include language that grants permission for the DNA to be used for unrelated investigations.
SFPD kept Doe’s DNA in the police database for over six years. According to the lawsuit, the crime lab routinely ran crime scene evidence through the database where her DNA was held without asking for her consent. “Her DNA was likely tested in thousands of criminal investigations, though the police had absolutely no reason to believe that she was involved in any of the incidents,” the lawsuit states.
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In February, after facing backlash in regards to the practice, SFPD announced that it would no longer “misuse” evidence collected from sexual assault victims. After Doe’s case came to light, many public figures responded with vows to change the way DNA evidence from sexual assault victims can be stored and used.
Victims who report sexual assault often consent to rape kits, which is a physical examination of their body. At this time a sexual assault survivor will provide their own DNA sample, and DNA samples of people who may have had close contact with the victim are also collected to help police identify which DNA could belong to their perpetrator.
These victim samples are not allowed to be uploaded to the federal DNA database, but local police departments sometimes operate and maintain their own separate database which includes DNA collected during sexual assault investigations. Until Doe’s case shed light on the practice, there was little oversight in how these databases can be used.
A new bill currently in the California legislature, Senate Bill 1228, stands to prohibit local law enforcement agencies from using the DNA of a sexual assault survivor in order to incriminate that survivor or their close contacts in unrelated crimes. Sen. Scott Wiener authored the bill, and shared comments on it’s importance.
“The last thing we need is to send a message to survivors that if they come forward, their DNA sample may be used against them in the future. We need to be clear and unequivocal that we support survivors and that providing a rape kit DNA sample will be a safe and respectful process.”Senator Scott Wiener of SB 1228