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Supreme Court rules on cheek swab case

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In a 4-1 decision handed down June 30, the Indiana Supreme Court found a man's consent to the swab of his cheek for DNA was voluntary, so the swab didn't violate the Fourth Amendment.

In Arturo Garcia-Torres v. State of Indiana, No. 64S03-0912-CR-550, Chief Justice Randall T. Shepard authored the majority opinion that delved into caselaw regarding extracting bodily evidence from a person, such as blood draws, urine samples, and fingerprints. Arturo Garcia-Torres, convicted of rape, attempted rape, and two counts of burglary, challenged the denial of his motion to suppress DNA evidence taken from a cheek swab while he was detained by police. Garcia-Torres was read his Miranda warnings in Spanish prior to the swab and confessed to attempting to rape one of the victims. The DNA taken from Garcia-Torres matched the DNA taken from another victim's rape kit and DNA found on a shoe left in another victim's apartment.

His incriminating statements to police were suppressed because the Miranda warnings hadn't been accurately translated into Spanish.

At issue is whether a cheek swab from a person under arrest is a search requiring its own separate warrant or other justification. The chief justice noted that most courts that have addressed the constitutionality of cheek swabs have concluded that it is a "search" for the purpose of the Fourth Amendment.

The justices looked at cases dealing with searches, including blood and breath samples, and non-search examples that dealt with fingerprinting.

"Fourth Amendment principles seem to suggest that DNA has more in common with fingerprints then it does with blood alcohol content, but like many courts, the parties to this appeal have taken for granted that the swab was a search requiring its own separate probable cause proceedings, even for a suspect in lawful custody for rape," Chief Justice Shepard wrote.

The evidence shows that Garcia-Torres voluntarily consented to the cheek swab, so it was not a violation of the Fourth Amendment. The majority also held that a Pirtle advisement wasn't required before the swab was taken. The various interests at stake on occasions when the high court has required a Pirtle advisement — police searches of homes or vehicles — aren't present in the instant case, so Garcia-Torres didn't have to be given the advisement that he had the right to consult an attorney about giving consent to search.

Justice Robert Rucker dissented, focusing on the issue of whether a person in police custody is entitled to be advised of his right to counsel before consenting to a cheek swab for DNA. A cheek swab is search under the meaning of the Federal Constitution, he wrote, and this can be no less true under Indiana's Constitution.

The Indiana Constitution makes no distinction as to what the search is when it says "the right of the people to be secure in their person, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable search or seizure, shall not be violated. ..." It doesn't matter whether the search is of a home or a person, he wrote.

He found the search in this case to be illegal because it was conducted without a warrant, but because Garcia-Torres consented, there was no violation.

"But, the Indiana Constitution provides greater protection than the Federal Constitution. And under our state constitution the investigating officer was required to advise Garcia-Torres that he had a right to consult with his lawyer before consenting to the search. Because no such advisement was given, the consent was invalid as a matter of Indiana law," he wrote.

He would reverse the judgment of the trial court and remand for a new trial.
 

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