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Miranda doesn’t apply to DNA tests, court says

The Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination does not apply when police request and take a DNA sample from a person in custody, the Supreme Court has ruled in State v. Heinonen, a unanimous opinion written by Justice Margaret Chutich.

“[N]one of the officers’ actions were reasonably likely to elicit an incriminating testimonial communication,” the court said.

The request for the search for DNA was not an interrogation and consenting to a search is not an incriminating testimonial communication that would trigger the Fifth Amendment and require a Miranda warning, the court said. Providing a DNA sample is likewise not an incriminating testimonial communication.

‘Handled the gun’

The defendant was arrested after a search that turned up a short-barreled shotgun and shells. The defendant, a convicted felon, was not permitted to possess a firearm, and the shotgun’s barrel length made it too short for anyone to legally possess in Minnesota.

The defendant was Mirandized at the property before being taken to jail where police asked him to sign a written consent to provide a DNA sample, which he did. He was not Mirandized a second time and the consent form had no information about self-incrimination or right to counsel.

When the defendant asked the police why they were taking a DNA sample, police said that it was to match the sample to DNA found on the gun. In response, defendant told police that he had handled the gun. The state’s expert said that the defendant’s DNA was consistent with the DNA on the gun.

At trial, the defendant moved to suppress the DNA evidence and his statement regarding the shotgun, arguing that the request for the DNA and the explanation of the reason for it was a second custodial interrogation that required a Miranda warning. The District Court judge denied the motion and the Court of Appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court affirmed the Court of Appeals.

Totality of the circumstances

The Supreme Court joined other courts, including the U.S. Supreme Court, in determining that police did not interrogate the defendant.

The court said that an interrogation under Miranda refers to express questioning or any words or actions that are not normally attendant to arrest and custody that the police should know are reasonably likely to elicit  and incriminating response from the defendant. Interrogation must reflect a measure of compulsion above and beyond that inherent in being in custody, the court said, relying on the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1980 decision, Rhode Island v. Innis.

In analyzing whether a police officer’s actions were an interrogation, the court considers the totality of the circumstances from the perspective of the subject and the likelihood of eliciting an incriminating response is central to the inquiry, Chutich wrote. If an incriminating response is not foreseeable, suppression is unwarranted.

In this case, requesting a consensual DNA test and responding to the defendant’s questions were not an interrogation because neither act was reasonably likely to elicit an incriminating testimonial response, the court continued.

“After all, the [request for the test] required only a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ response. Moreover, nothing in the record suggests that the request was made in a threatening or accusatory manner,” Chutich wrote. Similarly, the officers’ honest and straightforward declarative description of the evidence and the officers’ purpose was not reasonably likely to elicit an incriminating testimonial communication, the court said.

The officers’ actions in requesting the DNA sample and answering the defendant’s questions about it were not reasonably likely to elicit the defendant’s statement that he handled the gun, the court said. The court explained that it acknowledged that the defendant’s statement that he handled the gun was an incriminating testimonial statement but that the police could not foresee that their explanation of the DNA test would result in that statement.

The officers’ actions were therefore not the functional equivalent of a second custodial interrogation and no Miranda warning was required, the court concluded.

Not testimony

The officers did not breach the defendant’s first invocation of the self-incrimination privilege when they requested the DNA sample, the court continued. A consent to the search is not an incriminating testimonial communication, Chutich wrote.

Neither is actually providing the DNA sample, the court continued. “Even if the officers’ request for consent to take a DNA sample is reasonably likely to prompt the suspect to provide the sample, providing the physical sample is not an incriminating testimonial communication that triggers the Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination.”

Providing DNA solely to identify the defendant made him the source of evidence, which does not violate the privilege, the court said. “[T]he act of giving a DNA sample does not become an incriminating testimonial communication simply because it ultimately leads to incriminating physical evidence,” the court said.

Attorneys for the parties did not comment on the case.

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