The United States Constitution guarantees that we may not be subjected to unreasonable searches and seizures. But when the right is asserted by a defendant in criminal case, the stock response of most law enforcement personnel is, at best, grudging acceptance of that right. When the challenge to a search and seizure is successful, those same folks can often be heard to complain that the defendant “got off on a technicality.” How different it is when the shoe is on the other foot.
This particular saga began almost five years ago, in October 2010, when the body of a police officer, Sergeant Sean Drenth, was discovered near the State Capitol in Phoenix. The circumstances of Sergeant Drenth’s death were, and remain, somewhat mysterious. He was found in an empty lot with a gunshot wound to the head. He had a shotgun across his chest, another gun by his feet, and his service weapon some distance away. Hundreds of officers responded to the scene, and around 150 officers and other officials entered the area near the body. The case remains open, and the investigation centers on whether the death was a suicide, or a homicide that was staged to look like a suicide.
In any event, DNA evidence was recovered from the guns and from Sergeant Drenth’s car, and DNA samples were requested from the 50 officers who entered the crime scene. Five of those officers refused to give samples, and a court order was issued compelling them to comply. After the samples were taken, the officers sued in federal court, claiming the detectives failed to obtain a search warrant, in violation of their Fourth Amendment rights. The officers lost in United States District Court, and had their case thrown out. This week the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals agreed, stating that when the court order compelling the samples was obtained, the requirements of the Fourth Amendment were satisfied. Among other things, the appeals court noted that the original order was issued after a finding of probable cause that a homicide had been committed, as well as the existence of a “nexus” between the crime and the investigation.
There is, of course, always the possibility that the officers may try to take the case to the U.S. Supreme Court. We’ll watch for any further developments.
Law Offices of David A. Black
40 North Central Avenue #1850
Phoenix, AZ 85004