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Court Affirms Warrantless DNA Swab in Rape Case

June 5, 2016

In Jackson v State, the Georgia Court of Appeals affirmed the denial of the defendant’s motion to suppress evidence obtained via a DNA swab conducted during a rape investigation.

The Court held that the officer had probable cause to believe the defendant had assaulted the victim and exigent circumstances permitted him to obtain the DNA swab without a warrant.

The defendant was charged with rape, aggravated sodomy, and making a false statement to the police. He was arrested when an officer responding to a call regarding a possible rape found him outside the victim’s apartment complex. The defendant matched the description provided by the victim’s daughter.

On the morning in question, the victim was home sleeping when her daughter left the apartment but left the front door unlocked. When the daughter returned and found the door locked, she banged on the door until a man matching the defendant’s description opened it and ran away. Upon entering the apartment, she found her mother’s panties on the floor and woke her mother, who said she felt like she had been raped.

The responding officer believed that the defendant matched the description provided by the victim’s daughter. He also learned that the defendant had previously been barred from the premises. As a result, he arrested him for trespassing. While at the police department, an officer obtained a penile swab from the defendant to preserve any DNA evidence that may still have been present there.

The defendant argued that the evidence from the penile swab should have been suppressed since it was obtained without a warrant. However, the Court of Appeals found that the officer had sufficient reason to believe that the evidence might be compromised had the officer waited to obtain a warrant.

Although the Fourth Amendment protects the “right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects,” law enforcement officers can perform a search without a warrant if there is “the existence of exigent circumstances which require the officers to act immediately.”

In this case, the Court held that exigent circumstances would include the necessity of collecting DNA evidence before it was transferred or compromised. The Court reasoned that had the officers been required to obtain a warrant prior to the DNA swab, there was a reasonable probability that the evidence would no longer be available.

As a result, the Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s denial of the defendant’s motion to suppress.

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