A woman whose rape kit DNA was used to arrest her in an unrelated burglary case is suing the city of San Francisco and others for an “unconstitutional invasion of privacy.”
The victim, identified only as Jane Doe, alleges that her DNA was collected in 2016 while police were investigating her sexual assault and later stored in a database without her knowledge or permission.
The 14-page complaint, a copy of which was obtained by Oxygen.com, alleges that five years later, in December 2021, police used the DNA sample to arrest her for burglary. The charges against her were eventually dropped.
Her lawsuits states that her DNA “was tested against crime scene DNA in hundreds, if not thousands of cases.”
“This is government overreach of the highest order, using the most unique and personal thing we have – our genetic code – without our knowledge to try and connect us to the crime,” her attorney Adante Pointer said in a statement announcing the lawsuit, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.
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She is seeking a jury trial and unspecified damages.
Pointer told the Chronicle that after his client was charged with burglary that Jane Doe was held in jail for several months because she could not afford bail.
Jane Doe told the newspaper that she became depressed after she was released from jail.
“If you can’t even trust the police, who can you trust?” she said during an interview in March.
She later added: “I kind of absorb pain. It was just kind of like, ‘Why is this happening to me?’ And just making me feel really bad.”
Pointer told the New York Times that the incident reveals how women of color “are often targeted by the criminal justice system.” Jane Doe is Black.
“Their rights are trampled upon, repeatedly and continuously,” Pointer said. “So that’s another part of this: Making sure that we stand up for people in this society who often times don’t have their rights respected.”
The charges against the man accused of sexually assaulting Jane Doe were dropped, Pointer said.
“This case brings to light the San Francisco Police Department’s shocking practice of placing crime victims’ DNA into a permanent database without the victims’ knowledge or consent,” the complaint states. “Law enforcement officers test the victim’s DNA for matches in every subsequent criminal investigation in which genetic material is recovered without any reasonable basis to suspect the victims are in any way connected to these completely unrelated crime scenes.”
In February, then San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin refused to prosecute the case after discovering the source of evidence.
The case sparked outraged across the nation. Advocates warned that the practice could have a chilling effect and become yet another reason that victims of sexual assault are reluctant to come forward.
“At least 80 percent of all sexual assaults are not reported to law enforcement,” Pointer said at a news conference announcing the lawsuit, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. “So when someone has the courage to step up and report this to law enforcement, report this to authorities, rely upon authorities to do the right thing and investigate and prosecute the perpetrators of these crimes, the last thing the survivor is thinking is, ‘This will one day come back and be used against me.’”
The San Francisco Police Department also changed the way it handles DNA evidence from crime victims after the practice was revealed.
The California state legislature approve a bill last month that prohibits a victims’ DNA evidence being used for anything other than prosecuting that crime. The bill is on Governor Gavin Newsom’s desk awaiting his signature.