Minnesota Sheriff Sued Over Pre-Conviction DNA Collection

HASTINGS, Minn. (CN) – A Minnesota man claims in court that a county sheriff is trying to collect DNA samples from people who have been charged but not convicted of a crime, despite an appeals court striking down the law a decade ago.

John David Emerson sued Dakota County Sheriff Timothy Leslie in Dakota County District Court on Friday, alleging the sheriff has no authority to take pre-conviction DNA samples.

In 2005, the Minnesota Legislature enacted a DNA-collection statute that required law enforcement agencies to take DNA samples from persons who have not been convicted of a crime, only accused, according to the complaint.

The law was short-lived, however, as it was struck down the next year by the Minnesota Court of Appeals, which found that it violated the U.S. Constitution’s Fourth Amendment and Article 1, Section 10 of the Minnesota Constitution.

However, in 2015, “the sheriff decided that the court of appeals was wrong, and announced that he would resume enforcement of the DNA-collection statute,” according to the lawsuit.

Emerson says he was charged with one count of second-degree assault and was arrested in January 2016.

The next day, during his first court appearance, Emerson claims the Dakota County District Court granted his motion to prevent Leslie from taking a pre-conviction DNA sample from him.

In response, Leslie allegedly petitioned the Minnesota Court of Appeals for a writ of prohibition that would restrain the district court from enforcing its order against him, but his petition was denied.

In January of this year, however, the Minnesota Supreme Court reversed the appeals court on procedural grounds and granted Leslie’s petition for a writ of prohibition.

“The Minnesota Supreme Court held that the district court had subject matter jurisdiction to hear and decide Emerson’s motion, ‘but it exceeded its lawful authority when it used the wrong procedure to address Emerson’s constitutional challenge to the DNA-collection statute.’ The court held that a civil action was the proper way to challenge the sheriff’s enforcement of the DNA-collection statute,” the complaint states. “Accordingly, the Minnesota Supreme Court granted the requested prohibition, but did so ‘without prejudice to either party’s right to seek appropriate judicial relief in a separate civil proceeding.”

Two days after the Minnesota Supreme Court’s ruling, Leslie announced his office would reinstate its procedure of collecting DNA samples from criminal defendants. Dakota County is the only one in the state to begin collecting DNA samples again, according to the lawsuit.

Emerson says the state high court’s ruling does not mean Leslie can resume collecting DNA samples of defendants that haven’t been convicted.

“The DNA-collection statute was declared unconstitutional by the Minnesota Court of Appeals in 2006. No valid law authorizes the sheriff’s collection of a pre-conviction DNA sample from Emerson without a warrant,” the complaint states.

According to the lawsuit, even before the Minnesota Supreme Court weighed in, Leslie had justified his decision to reinstate the DNA-collection statute in 2015 by citing Maryland v. King, in which the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a Maryland statute that authorized the collection of DNA from certain criminals as reasonable under the Fourth Amendment.

Emerson says that case doesn’t support Leslie’s “unilateral decision to revive an unconstitutional statute.

King did not address Minnesota’s DNA-collection statute and did not overrule the court of appeals’ decision,” the lawsuit states. “Nor does King in any way affect the court of appeals decision that the statute violates the Minnesota Constitution.”

To date, Leslie has not taken a pre-conviction DNA sample from Emerson, according to the complaint, and Emerson has not been convicted of his second-degree assault charge, which remains pending.

However, his trial is scheduled for July 17, and he believes a sample of his DNA will be collected before then.

Dakota County Attorney James Backstrom said in a statement, “The United States Supreme Court has ruled that statues similar to Minnesota’s which authorize the collection of DNA from suspects who have been arrested and charged with crimes of violence are constitutional. This decision in my opinion overruled the 2006 Minnesota Court of Appeals decision finding Minnesota’s statute mandating this collection unconstitutional under the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.”

Leslie defended the DNA-collection law, saying it “aids in the identification of individuals arrested for serious felonies who are housed within our jails and who are released back into our communities pending resolution of their criminal charges.”

Emerson seeks a temporary injunction restraining Leslie from enforcing the DNA-collection statute while his lawsuit is pending, and a permanent injunction at the conclusion of his case.

He is represented by Peter J. Farrell with Faegre Baker Daniels LLP in Minneapolis, and by attorneys with the American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota.

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