DNA Case Faces Tough Audience in 6th Circuit

     CINCINNATI (CN) – An aloof 6th Circuit panel met Thursday to hear about a jail that refused to release a man after he was acquitted without first collecting his DNA.
     Keith Crabbs was arrested in 2010 and charged with voluntary manslaughter after admitting to having shot someone who attacked and pulled a gun on him in the street.
     Though eventually acquitted of the charge, Crabbs remained handcuffed and returned to the Franklin County Jail.
     There, officers refused to allow Crabbs to contact his attorney and told him he would not be able to leave until he provided a DNA sample.
     Crabbs initially resisted but eventually provided a mouth swab and was released.
     Ohio law stipulates that all inmates are required to submit a DNA sample upon intake into the prison system.
     Crabbs sued numerous defendants for civil rights violations, a majority of whom were dismissed from the case after the DNA sample taken at the prison was destroyed.
     Franklin County Sheriff Zach Scott appealed to the 6th Circuit when the court denied him summary judgment on the basis of sovereign immunity.
     Scott’s attorney Jesse Armstrong seemed uptight throughout Thursday’s arguments, and was several times at a loss for words when questioned by the panel.
     Armstrong argued that Sheriff Scott was simply following a mandatory policy and is entitled to immunity because he “used no discretion” in collecting the sample after Crabbs’ acquittal.
     Judge Jeffrey Sutton asked why the swab was taken after acquittal, and was perplexed when Armstrong responded that “for whatever reason, policy was not followed.”
     Judge Sutton replied: “I’m not following. [You’re saying] a violation of the policy somehow insulates him?”
     Armstrong asserted that the particular collection of Crabbs’ DNA is not in question, specifically because it was an “isolated incident of noncompliance.”
     Sutton pressed further, asking why Crabbs was not allowed to contact his attorney, at which point Armstrong became noticeably uncomfortable and was silent for several seconds.
     The attorney eventually responded that the facts surrounding Crabbs’ inability to contact an attorney were not fully clear during proceedings at the District Court level.
     Judge Sutton summed up Armstrong’s strategy by concluding that “[You have] great arguments – they just aren’t helpful to sovereign immunity.”
     Charlie Hess, attorney for Keith Crabbs, used only one-third of his allotted 15 minutes to argue that the appellate panel should affirm.
     Judge Alan Eugene Norris inquired about the harm that the sheriff’s conduct inflicted, and if Crabbs would even have reason to bring a suit if the statute was amended to allow collection after acquittal.
     Hess responded that allowing DNA collection after acquittal would be “the same thing as stopping [a person] at a random road stop and asking for DNA,” and that such an amendment would never survive if challenged via the court system.
     He added that Crabbs “feels on edge constantly” because his DNA sample was entered into a national Combined DNA Index System database.
     In his rebuttal, Armstrong reiterated that Sheriff Scott was only acting as an arm of the state for the “limited purpose of enforcing a state statute,” but the panel was nonplussed.
     No timetable has been set for a decision by the panel, which also included Circuit Judge Bernice Donald.

%d bloggers like this: