case law update

Seventh Circuit: Inevitable Discovery Doctrine Applies to Unlawfully Obtained Blood Samples

Last week, the Seventh Circuit determined that the inevitable discovery doctrine applied to an unlawfully obtained blood sample because the blood would inevitably have been produced under a state law requiring the collection of blood after a sex crime conviction.

In 1990, P. Lally was the victim of a home invasion and sexual assault, which took place during an intruder’s break-in into the home of another person, who ultimately testified as a witness. The intruder tied up the witness, sexually assaulted Lally, and stole money from them. Following the attack, Lally permitted medical personnel to assemble a rape kit and obtain physical evidence. Neither Lally nor the witness were able to definitively identify any suspect from the police photos or lineup.

In a separate incident that took place in March 1991, A. Rac became the victim of attempted sexual assault that took place in an alleyway behind her building. Daryl Sutton was arrested and charged with the crime. When appearing at a preliminary hearing before the Cook County Circuit Court, Judge James F. Henry granted the prosecutor’s request to order that Sutton submit a blood sample as a condition of his bond. Sutton was not released on bond at that time and the sample was never taken.

On May 7, 1991, during a pre-trial hearing before a difference judge, Judge Richard LaCien, the prosecution requested that Judge Henry’s order be “redrafted” so that a blood sample could be taken. Judge LaCien consented and signed the order over Sutton’s objection. Three months later, the state took Sutton’s blood sample.

The prosecution presented no forensic evidence, but Sutton was convicted on all counts and sentenced to ten years in prison. Though state law specified that any person convicted of a sex offense “shall … be required to submit samples of blood and saliva,” the court did not order Sutton to do so at that time.

After the Rac prosecution, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) matched Sutton’s DNA derived from the Rac blood sample with the physical evidence supplied by Lally. Based on this new evidence, Sutton was charged for the attack against Lally in 1990.

Before trial, Sutton moved to suppress the DNA evidence connecting him to the Lally crime on the ground that the blood sample had been taken in violation of the Fourth Amendment. The court admitted the DNA evidence, and in 1997 Sutton was convicted of all counts in the Lally case. He was sentenced to concurrent eighteen-year sentences for home invasion and armed robbery, and a consecutive fifteen-year sentence for aggravated criminal sexual assault.

Sutton’s appeals from the judgement were unsuccessful. The Illinois Court of Appeals rejected his argument that the blood sample was inadmissible. Thereafter, Sutton filed a petition with the district court seeking habeas corpus relief under 28 U.S.C. § 2254, alleging that he received ineffective assistance of counsel in violation of his Sixth Amendment rights. Rather than turning to Sutton’s ineffective assistance of counsel argument, the district court turned directly to Sutton’s underlying Fourth Amendment claim.

The district court held that although a federal court cannot grant habeas corpus relief on the basis of a Fourth Amendment claim, Sutton’s situation fell within the narrow exception for cases where the petitioner did not have a full and fair hearing on his claim in state court. On the merits, the district court found a constitutional violation warranting the issuance of the writ.

The state filed a motion to alter or amend the district court’s judgment, arguing that it would inevitably have discovered Sutton’s DNA because of the state law requiring that persons convicted of sex crimes provide a blood sample. The district court rejected the state’s argument, which filed an appeal with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit.

The court of appeals first considered whether any relief at all was available to Sutton. Where a state court has decided an issue on the merit, relief may only be granted if that decision was “contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of clearly established Federal law.” This high bar is raised even further in alleged Fourth Amendment violations, enforceable through the exclusionary rule, where relief is not available except in extremely narrow circumstances. The court of appeals noted that one narrow exception has been recognized by the Supreme Court – a petitioner may litigate his Fourth Amendment exclusionary rule claim on collateral review if he was not “afforded the opportunity for full and fair consideration of his search-and-seizure claim at trial and on direct review.”

The state contended that the admission of Sutton’s DNA evidence in the Lally trial was subjected to the inevitable discovery doctrine. Under the inevitable discovery doctrine, if the state can establish by a preponderance of the evidence that the information inevitably would have been discovered by lawful means, then the evidence should be received. While the inevitable discovery doctrine typically applies in situations where the police prematurely conducted a search before obtaining a warrant, the court of appeals found no reason to create a distinction between physical entry to a location and drawing blood.

Without any categorical reason not to consider the inevitable discovery doctrine, the court considered whether the state demonstrated by a preponderance of the evidence that it would have obtained Sutton’s blood sample in the absence of the unlawful order from the Rac case. The state referred to Illinois law that in effect required all persons convicted of certain sex crimes to provide a blood sample. Though the law was not followed in the Rac case because the police already obtained a sample through an assumed unlawful order, the court of appeals stated that the language in the law was mandatory.

The court of appeals found that a presumption exists that the police and courts will follow routine procedures for issuing warrants. This was enough to show by a preponderance of the evidence that, but for the state already possessing a sample from Sutton, it would have collected a new one. The Lally court therefore could have admitted the DNA evidence pursuant to the inevitable discovery doctrine, despite the assumed Fourth Amendment violation in the Rac case.

As such, even if the state violated the Fourth Amendment in the Rac case, the court of appeals held that Sutton’s custody in the Lally case was not in violation of the Constitution, and he was not entitled to the issuance of the writ.

Read the full case: Sutton v. Pfister


This case law update was written by Michael J. Sgarlat, associate attorney, Shaw Bransford & Roth, PC.

For thirty years, Shaw Bransford & Roth P.C. has provided superior representation on a wide range of federal employment law issues, from representing federal employees nationwide in administrative investigations, disciplinary and performance actions, and Bivens lawsuits, to handling security clearance adjudications and employment discrimination cases.

Posted in Case Law Update

Tags: case law update, seventh circuit, sex crimes

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