Thursday, July 11, 2013

Connecticut Prison Officials Can Now Take DNA By Force

The Connecticut DNA Database Unit, which currently receives 12,000 DNA samples from convicted offenders each year, will undoubtedly expand in light of the Connecticut Appellate Court’s recent ruling in State of Connecticut v. Roosevelt Drakes. Recently, Connecticut’s second-highest court affirmed rulings in two superior court cases and held that state prison officials can use reasonable force to take DNA samples from convicted felons who refuse to provide them because the ability to use physical force is inherent in the statutory language and barring state officials from using reasonable physical force would allow a felon to evade his or her obligation to provide a DNA sample and thereby hinder the creation of a comprehensive DNA database to assist in future criminal investigations.  

Connecticut law requires that all convicted felons provide DNA samples, but the challenged statute did not explicitly permit officials to use force in obtaining those samples.  Also, under the statute, convicted felons who did not comply with requests for DNA specimens could be charged with an additional class D felony.  Two inmates, Mark Banks, who is serving up to 34 years in prison on kidnapping, robbery, and other convictions, and Roosevelt Drakes, who is serving a 30-year sentence for murder, declined to provide DNA samples and consequently received additional charges and penalties.  Banks and Drakes appealed their convictions under the statute, which has since been amended by Public Act No. 11-144, on the ground that there was no specific and express language in the statute authorizing officials to use force to obtain DNA samples. 

Currently, all 50 states allow state officials to take DNA samples from convicted felons, and the United States Supreme Court recently issued a significant ruling regarding officials’ ability to obtain DNA evidence during the pre-conviction phase of criminal proceedings.  In June, 2013, the United States Supreme Court held that when officers make an arrest supported by probable cause, hold a suspect for a serious offense, and transport him or her to a station to be held in custody, taking and analyzing a cheek swab of the arrestee’s DNA is a legitimate police booking procedure that is reasonable under the Fourth Amendment (Maryland v. King).   

The recent decisions at the state and federal levels received widespread media coverage, which is a testament to the increasingly important role of DNA evidence in criminal proceedings.  As of June 20, 2013, officials had not yet taken DNA samples from Banks and Drakes because the trial court decisions against them had been stayed pending the outcome of their appeals, and it is uncertain whether Banks and Drakes will now appeal their decisions to the Connecticut Supreme Court.