On Monday, February 14th, the Police Chief of the San Francisco Police Department, William Scott, announced that the police department would review its policies and practices on DNA collection after the city’s District Attorney, Chesa Boudin, accused the police department’s crime lab of using the DNA profiles of rape and sexual assault survivors to identify suspects in unrelated investigations. Boudin, in a statement released on Monday, stated that his office was made aware of the practice last week, and that this practice was “legally and ethically wrong” and one that treated rape and sexual assault victims like “evidence” and criminals rather than “human beings.” According to Boudin, “rapes and sexual assaults are violent, dehumanizing, and traumatic” and survivors may be dissuaded from participating in the rape kit process if they believe that their DNA may end up being used against them in the future.
Although it is not clear how long the San Francisco Police Department’s crime lab has been using the DNA of rape and sexual assault victims and how many survivors have been arrested as a result, Boudin said that the DNA collected from a rape and sexual assault survivor in 2016 was recently used to link the woman to a felony property crime. According to Michael Risher of the American Civil Liberties Union, using a survivor’s DNA profile to incriminate them in an investigation unrelated to their own is a violation of their privacy. The police chief responded to the allegations saying that there is a possibility that the suspect in the case may have been identified through a DNA kit in a non-victim database. The San Francisco Police Department, however, is no stranger to controversy, as the department has been scrutinized in the past for its mishandling of sexual assault cases. In 2014, an investigation by the ABC7 News I-Team prompted the police department to conduct an audit on the number of untested rape kits sitting on the police department’s shelves. The audit found that there were ten years’ worth of rape kits and 753 kits dated from 2003 to 2013 were untested. In 2019 a woman also petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to take her case against San Francisco for the police department’s mishandling of her 2010 rape.
Police Chief William Scott, who has claimed that the DNA policies and practices conform to state and national forensic standards, has ordered an investigation and has pledged to stop the use of the practice if the allegations are found to be true, while District Attorney Chesa Boudin stated that he’s committed to working with law enforcement and lawmakers to end the practice that appears to be routine across crime labs in the state.
Instructors, click on the link below to download this week’s lecture for use in your classroom. The deck contains a writing prompt, a debate question, as well as other assessment questions.
- Writing: Explain how this practice might discourage rape and sexual assault survivors from reporting crimes to law enforcement.
- Debate: According to legal analyst, Steven Clark, the practice calls into question the constitutional use of the evidence as an unreasonable search and seizure under the Fourth Amendment. Do you believe that using evidence in this way is a violation of an individual’s Fourth Amendment’s rights?
- Poll: Using DNA from a rape kit provided by a victim to arrest that victim for a crime is a misuse of evidence. (Agree or Disagree).
- Short Answer: Discuss whether the use of rape kit evidence to identify suspects in unrelated investigations is a systemic practice.
Cover Image: iStock.com/tumsasedgars