SJLF filed an amicus brief in Thompson v. Spitzer, a lawsuit challenging the Orange County District Attorney’s expansive DNA collection program, which highlighted findings from our team’s extensive court observations – namely, that the DA’s Office is violating an accused person’s right to counsel before, during, and after the plea negotiation process, and relies on the pressures inherent to the criminal justice system to force accused persons to provide their DNA prior to being convicted of any wrongdoing and without adequate understanding of what they are giving up.
On October 27, 2022, the Social Justice Legal Foundation (SJLF) filed an amicus brief against the invasive and expansive Orange County DNA Collection Program (OCDNA)—highlighting the serious violations of right to counsel and the coercive environment that forces people merely charged with a misdemeanor offense to permanently surrender their unique genetic code.
The amicus brief was filed in the California Fourth District Court of Appeals, Division Three. OCDNA contains nearly 200,000 individual DNA profiles, with an additional 13,000 to 20,000 added per year. That means 1 in every 16 Orange County residents has their highly personal and sensitive genetic sequence, and that of their family, under state surveillance. While only spanning a county, OCDNA is larger than 29 state-wide DNA databases, and virtually every plea deal now encompasses DNA if the accused has not yet given DNA.
The amicus brief highlights how, in our court observations, prosecutors take advantage of the less formal protections of misdemeanor court to systematize the collection of an individual’s DNA and highlights the experiences of individuals who feel coerced into providing such personal and unique information. Per our court observations, prosecutors often approach individuals while they are yet unrepresented and present their plea offer as exploding, i.e., only valid at that time (prior to speaking to counsel). Prosecutors provide little to no substantive information about OCDNA—such as where the DNA will be stored, for how long, who will have access to it, what it will be used for, etc. There are already many systemic factors that lead an individual to feel forced into taking a deal, e.g., avoiding jail time, loss of work, or potential immigration consequences, and the amicus brief details how prosecutors capitalize on these factors to push through DNA deals. The rapid expansion of the program, and the massive collection of DNA from people merely charged with a misdemeanor offense, had one accused woman feeling “like a slave, like an animal, not like a human being.” The amicus brief urges the Appellate Court to reverse the trial court’s dismissal of this important case.