A rape victim filed a lawsuit against the city after police in San Francisco used DNA from her sexual assault case to arrest her for an unrelated property crime on Monday.
The woman’s DNA was linked to a burglary in late 2021 during a search of a San Francisco Police Department crime lab database. Her DNA was collected and stored in the system as part of a 2016 domestic violence and sexual assault case, then-District Attorney Chesa Boudin revealed in February, raising privacy concerns.
“This is government overreach of the highest order, using the most unique and personal thing we have — our genetic code — without our knowledge to try and connect us to crime,” the woman’s attorney, Adante Pointer, said in a statement.
The news sparked a national outcry from activists, law enforcement, legal experts, and lawmakers. Advocates said the practice could affect victims’ willingness to come forward to law enforcement authorities, according to ABC 11.
The inclusion of victims’ DNA in the national Combined DNA Index System is already prohibited by federal law. In California, there is no corresponding law prohibiting local law enforcement databases from retaining victim profiles and searching them years later for entirely different purposes.
California lawmakers approved a bill last month that would prohibit police from using DNA profiles collected from sexual assault survivors and other victims for any purpose other than assisting in the identification of the perpetrator.
Local law enforcement would also be prohibited from retaining and then searching for victim DNA in order to incriminate them in unrelated crimes under the legislation, which is pending before Gov. Gavin Newsom.
According to Boudin, the report was discovered among hundreds of pages of evidence against a woman who had recently been charged with a felony property crime. Boudin dropped the felony property crime charges against the woman after learning the source of the DNA evidence.
Police Chief Bill Scott said the crime lab stopped the practice shortly after receiving a complaint from the district attorney’s office and formally changed its operating procedure to prevent the misuse of DNA collected from sexual assault victims.
Scott stated at a March police commission meeting that he discovered 17 crime victim profiles, 11 of which were from rape kits, that were matched as potential suspects using a crime victims database during unrelated investigations. Scott stated that he believes the only person arrested was the woman who filed the lawsuit Monday.
To protect her privacy, the woman filed the lawsuit under the alias, Jane Doe, according to Pointer. The Associated Press generally does not name people who claim to have been sexually assaulted unless they choose to be named.
Local law enforcement crime labs in California are permitted to operate their own forensic databases separate from federal and state databases. The law also allows municipal labs to perform forensic analysis, including DNA profiling, and use those databases without state or other’s regulations.