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Name: People v. Buza
Case #: S223698
Court: CA Supreme Court
District CalSup
Opinion Date: 04/02/2018

Warrantless gathering of DNA samples from a person who was validly arrested for a serious offense does not violate either the Fourth Amendment or the California Constitution. After Buza’s arrest for arson, police tried unsuccessfully to obtain a DNA sample from him. The DNA Act (Pen. Code, § 296 et seq.; Prop. 69), requires police to collect DNA samples upon a felony arrest. Buza was later convicted of arson and misdemeanor refusal to provide a DNA sample (Pen. Code, § 298.1, subd. (a)). The Court of Appeal reversed the misdemeanor conviction, concluding the DNA Act violated Buza’s Fourth Amendment rights. The California Supreme Court granted review and transferred the case to the Court of Appeal to reconsider its decision in light of Maryland v. King (2013) 569 U.S. 435 [collecting and analyzing DNA samples from person arrested and charged with serious offenses does not violate the Fourth Amendment]. The Court of Appeal again reversed, this time based on the California Constitution’s prohibition on unreasonable searches (Cal. Const., art. I, § 13). Review was granted. Held: Reversed. The “touchstone for all issues” under both the Fourth Amendment and the California Constitution is reasonableness. A felony arrestee is in valid police custody for a serious offense supported by probable cause. The DNA Act limits the use of the DNA sample to confirming identification. The government has a legitimate interest in correctly identifying an arrested individual, in discovering if he is wanted elsewhere, in assuring the safety of facility staff, and making sure the arrestee does not flee prosecution. DNA typing is but an extension of identification methods long used in dealing with arrestees. Balanced against the significant governmental interest at stake, obtaining the DNA sample involves a negligible intrusion of the arrestee, whose custodial status has necessarily diminished his expectation of privacy. Thus, the DNA Act is valid under both the federal and state Constitutions.

In the context of this case, none of the differences between the DNA Act and the Maryland statute at issue in King meaningfully alters the constitutional balance struck in King. Buza argued there were three major differences between his case and the statute at issue in King: (1) the DNA Act applies to a broader category of arrestees than the Maryland law; (2) the DNA Act allows collecting and testing of DNA before an accusatory pleading is filed and before there is a judicial determination that the charges are valid; and (3) the DNA Act, unlike the Maryland law, does not require destruction of DNA samples if the arrestee is cleared of charges. However, none of these differences affects the Fourth Amendment analysis in Buza’s case. King did not limit its holding to those felonies classified as “violent,” and in any event, Buza was charged with arson, which is a serious felony. Buza does not dispute his arrest was valid, and in the related context of a search incident to arrest, there is no judicial preapproval requirement. With respect to expungement, Buza was convicted of arson, so is not entitled to challenge the adequacy of the Act’s expungement procedures. Noting that Buza raised a number of concerns about the potential application of the DNA Act in other cases involving differently situated arrestees, the court recognized “that the DNA Act may raise additional constitutional questions that will require resolution in other cases.” [Editor’s Note: Justices Liu and Cuéllar dissented.]

The full opinion is available on the court’s website here: