A Provincetown man is suing amid claims his privacy rights were violated after authorities allegedly kept records in connection with a voluntary DNA sample he submitted during an investigation into the killing of a fashion writer, the Boston Globe reports.
Massachusetts criminal defense attorneys are seeing an increasing number of criminal charges being brought in cold cases after hits from the DNA database link defendants to the crime. In addition to the state system, samples are submitted to the Combined DNA Index System (CODIS), which compiles and compares samples from defendants and unsolved crimes nationwide.
While seldom discussed as a reason to fight a conviction on felony charges in Massachusetts, keeping your DNA out of such databases can be critical to protecting your privacy rights.
In this case, Keith Amato sued after trying for two years to get his sample back from law enforcement. He claims the submission was voluntary and that authorities told him he would get the sample back if his DNA did not match a sample collected at the scene of the killing of Christa Worthington. While the sample was returned in October 2008, he claims the state crime lab has held his DNA profile, along with records and samples provided by other men.
Last week, the Massachusetts Appeals Court ruled his lawsuit can go forward; it had been tossed out by a lower court.
“The allegations that the defendants have retained Amato’s highly sensitive DNA records without his consent and made them available for nonconsensual use in other criminal investigations are sufficient to constitute an unreasonable, substantial, and serious interference with Amato’s privacy,” the court ruled.
Worthington’s trash collector, Christopher McCowen, was convicted in 2006 of her rape and murder and is serving life in prison. Worthington lived in Cape Cod at the time of the crime. Investigators solicited samples from numerous men who knew the victim. Amato was a relative by marriage of the father of Worthington’s 2 1/2 year old daughter.
The lawsuit claims as many as 200 men gave samples and that Amato was assured any samples that did not match the crime scene would not become part of any state or federal database. McCowen also provided a sample before being arrested in 2005.
Amato was unsuccessful in retrieving his sample, despite requesting its return on numerous occasions from the Cape & Islands District Attorney’s Office. The office said state lab protocol requires retaining evidence in murder cases for 50 years.
Such DNA dragnets are an example of law enforcement operating in a gray area. The “voluntary” collection of samples comes perilously close to unreasonable search and seizure and must be aggressively challenged by a Cape Cod criminal defense lawyer.
Unfortunately, such tactics have been around since the advent of DNA. The first use of DNA in a criminal case occurred in England after the rape and murder of two girls. “Mass screening” of male subjects was used to solve the crime. The case is recounted in “The Blooding: The True Story of the Narborough Village Murder,” by Joseph Wambaugh.
Wambaugh is a former detective with the Los Angeles Police Department.
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