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Police Class-Action Ruse Doesn’t Bar DNA

Posted May 10, 2007 2:01 PM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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The Washington Supreme Court has affirmed the second-degree murder conviction of a man who provided DNA by licking and mailing an envelope to police posing as plaintiffs lawyers.

In a decision (PDF) issued today, the court said there is no inherent privacy interest in saliva used for identification purposes, and the search did not violate the federal or state constitutions.

The court also rejected an argument that the defendant was entitled to rely on the attorney-client privilege to protect the DNA, saying saliva is not a communication.

“We find there is no absolute prohibition of police ruses involving detectives posing as attorneys in the state of Washington,” Justice Charles W. Johnson wrote in his opinion for the majority.

The defendant, John Nicholas Athan, thought he was responding to a request for plaintiffs in a class action lawsuit about parking ticket overcharges when he mailed the form.

Police used the evidence to link Athan to the unsolved 1982 murder of a 13-year-old girl. He had been a suspect in the original investigation, but DNA typing was not advanced at the time.

A hat tip to How Appealing, which carried news of the opinion.

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