February 29, 2024

California ruling upholds police use of DNA from discarded cigarette

Privacy and public safety collide again

Tension between privacy and public safety
has flared, as a state appellate court in Sacramento, California, ruled that a
suspect’s discarded DNA is not private information. The court upheld the murder
conviction of a man caught 15 years after the crime by results of DNA tests of
a cigarette butt he dropped on a footpath.

Rolando N. Gallego’s lawyer protested that
his client’s constitutional shield against warrantless searches was violated by
the DNA test of saliva taken from the cigarette.

The three appellate justices cited a 1988
US Supreme Court ruling that defendants “possessed no reasonable
expectation of privacy in trash bags they had left at the public curb,”
which held incriminating evidence of drug trafficking. Gallego’s cigarette butt,
like the garbage bags, was left in a place “particularly suited for public
inspection,” the judges said in their 30-page opinion. ~ The
Sacramento Bee, Nov 23

Jared Yee