According to an article from Forensic, a woman whose DNA sample from sexual assault evidence was used to arrest her on unrelated property crime charges six years later is planning to sue the city of San Francisco, claiming the police department unlawfully invaded her privacy. Three days prior to the lawsuit, San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin and California State Senator Scott Wiener introduced legislation to prevent such police action — Senate Bill 1228: Genetic Privacy for Sexual Assault Victims.
In February 2022, the San Francisco Police brought the property crime case to Boudin. Boudin refused to try the case, and “denounced the practice of using rape and sexual assault victims’ DNA to attempt to incriminate them” in other crimes. The woman’s attorney, however, filed notice of a “possible” federal lawsuit, saying her client “feels betrayed by police officers who broke her trust and violated her rights,” according to reporting from the Associated Press.
Although the San Francisco Police crime lab said the use of evidence from the sexual assault kit DNA database could be considered “standard practice,” Boudin disagreed.
“Victims of sexual assault consent to their DNA collection in order to apprehend the perpetrator, not so that their DNA will be retained in a local law enforcement database permanently to be searched years later,” Boudin said.
According to San Francisco Police Chief Bill Scott, “17 crime victim profiles, 11 of them from rape kits … were matched using a crime victims database during unrelated investigations.” Chief Scott said, to his knowledge, the only arrest made using the database is the woman who filed the lawsuit. Since Boudin’s complaint, the crime lab has stopped utilizing the crime victims database in this capacity.
If passed, SB 1228 would prevent law enforcement from using databases containing DNA of sexual assault victims to conduct unrelated searches. The DNA profile could only be used to identify the perpetrator of the assault. The bill would also extend DNA protections to the victims’ close contacts, from whom samples are often collected to eliminate them from the suspect pool.
“Victims of sexual assault should be encouraged and supported in coming forward to undergo sexual assault examinations to identify their perpetrator. Instead, the practice by a police crime lab that my office exposed treats victims like criminals. It not only violates their privacy, but it dissuades victims from reporting sexual violence—which makes us all less safe,” Boudin said.
The Forensic article notes that sexual assault is a “significantly” under-reported crime; for people who do report their assault, the testing process is long and “highly invasive.”
SB 1228 would instruct the Committee on Revision of the Penal Code to address what actions are needed to prevent further invasions of privacy. The Committee is also being asked to consider a forensic oversight board.
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