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Court Affirms New York Manslaughter Conviction After Finding Defendant’s DNA Was Not Illegally Seized

Recently, a state appellate court issued an opinion in a New York manslaughter case, affirming the defendant’s conviction after dismissing his challenge to the way in which the prosecution obtained a sample of his DNA. In so doing, the court explained how law enforcement officials can legally obtain DNA evidence from a suspect who has yet to be charged with a crime.

The Facts of the Case

According to the court’s opinion, four men belonging to the gang, Young Gunnaz, drove a Gold Nissan into a rival gang’s territory. The person in the car’s passenger seat exited the vehicle and shot and killed a 16-year-old. The incident was caught by a surveillance camera, but no identification could be made from the footage.

Law enforcement tracked down the owner of the Gold Nissan, who became a cooperating witness. He identified the defendant as the shooter, and explained that, after the shooting, the men went back to their apartment building. The driver allowed the police to take a DNA sample from the car’s front passenger seat area.

Police reviewed surveillance footage from the defendant’s apartment complex, which showed the defendant arriving a few minutes after the shooting. This corroborated the driver’s story. Law enforcement then took this information to a judge to get a warrant for a saliva sample from the defendant. The prosecution presented the warrant ex-parte, meaning outside the presence of the defendant. However, the court allowed the defendant’s attorney to be present, but did not require the prosecution to provide discovery pertaining to the shooting. After brief argument, the court signed the warrant, a sample was obtained, and the result matched the sample from inside the Gold Nissan. The defendant was arrested and charged with murder.

The defendant filed a motion to suppress the seizure of his DNA evidence. Specifically, he argued that the lower court mistakenly denied him the opportunity to attack the basis for the warrant, and that he should have been given the right to contest the warrant before the sample was obtained. The court rejected the defendant’s argument, and he was subsequently convicted of manslaughter.

The defendant appealed. On appeal, the court cited the framework for analyzing the propriety of a DNA seizure. The court explained that police must have “probable cause to believe the individual committed the crime, a clear indication that material and relevant evidence will be found, and that the means of obtaining the evidence is safe and reliable.” Here, the court went on to explain that the prosecution did not need to establish probable cause, because the defendant was allowed to challenge the search warrant. In the case of a cheek swab for DNA, the court held that the “minimal intrusion” of the defendant’s rights was supported by providing the defendant notice.

Have You Been Arrested After Police Obtained Your DNA?

If you have recently been arrested after police obtained your DNA – either with or without your consent – reach out to the dedicated criminal defense attorneys at Tilem & Associates. At Tilem & Associates, we have decades of hands-on experience litigating even the most complex crimes, including New York homicide cases, sex offenses, and all types of violent crime. To learn more, and to schedule a free consultation today, call 877-377-8666.

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