Constitutional Law - Supreme Court of Minnesota Upholds Warrantless DNA Sample of Individual Convicted of Misdemeanor - State V. Johnson

By Grant, Raymond | Suffolk University Law Review, February 2013 | Go to article overview

Constitutional Law - Supreme Court of Minnesota Upholds Warrantless DNA Sample of Individual Convicted of Misdemeanor - State V. Johnson


Grant, Raymond, Suffolk University Law Review


Constitutional Law--Supreme Court of Minnesota Upholds Warrantless DNA Sample of Individual Convicted of Misdemeanor--State v. Johnson, 813 N.W.2d 1 (Minn. 2012)

The Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and article I, section 10 of the Minnesota Constitution protect an individual's privacy right from an unreasonable search or seizure. (1) However, courts have upheld the constitutionality of some searches when an individual's expectation of privacy is outweighed by a legitimate governmental interest. (2) In State v. Johnson, (3) the Supreme Court of Minnesota considered whether a Minnesota statute violated an individual's right to privacy by authorizing DNA collection from an individual charged with a felony offense but convicted of a misdemeanor arising from the same conduct. (4) The court held that the statute, as applied to the defendant in this case, did not violate the United States or Minnesota constitutional protection against unreasonable searches and seizures. (5)

In September 2008, Randolph Johnson Jr. was charged with felony domestic assault by strangulation. (6) Johnson was also charged with misdemeanor fifth-degree assault for actions arising out of the same incident. (7) Prior to trial, Johnson accepted the State's plea bargain and pled guilty to misdemeanor domestic assault, rather than the felony domestic assault charge. (8) When informed that he was required to submit a DNA sample in accordance with Minnesota's DNA sampling statute, Johnson signed the guilty plea on the condition that it could be withdrawn if the district court denied his motion to declare the DNA sampling statute unconstitutional. (9) Johnson argued that the DNA sampling statute violated constitutional protections against unreasonable searches and seizures, because requiring DNA samples from individuals convicted of misdemeanor offenses constitutes a warrantless and suspicionless seizure. (10)

At the sentencing hearing, the district court rejected Johnson's argument and held that the statute was constitutional, but stayed the order to submit a DNA sample pending appeal. (11) He was subsequently placed on probation after a stay of his ninety-day sentence. (12) Johnson's probation was subject to several conditions, including the requirement that he submit to random urinalysis testing. (13) On appeal, the Minnesota Court of Appeals affirmed the district court's ruling, holding that the Minnesota DNA sampling statute did not violate the search and seizure provision of the Fourth Amendment when applied to individuals convicted of a misdemeanor arising from the same set of circumstances as a charged felony. (14) Upon granting Johnson's petition for review, the Supreme Court of Minnesota held that, as a result of Johnson's significant reduction in his expectation of privacy, the State's interests in deterring recidivism and identifying offenders of past and future crimes significantly outweighed Johnson's privacy expectation; therefore, the statute was constitutional under the totality-of-the-circumstances test. (15)

The cornerstone analysis of the Fourth Amendment is the reasonableness of the government's intrusion into an individual's privacy, which is usually measured by compliance with the Warrant Clause and its requirement of probable cause. (16) However, the United States Supreme Court has relaxed the probable cause standard under certain conditions. (17) In United States v. Knights, the Court applied the totality-of-the-circumstances test to a Fourth Amendment challenge of a warrantless search pursuant to a felony probation condition. (18) Balancing the privacy interests of the defendant against the government's interest in the search, the Court held that under the foregoing test, the Fourth Amendment merely required reasonable suspicion to uphold the felony probation search. (19) Expanding upon this holding, the United States Supreme Court again addressed the issue of a warrantless search as a condition of parole in Samson v. …

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