Five months following an attack on an elderly organist at a church in Centerville, Utah, a 17 year old teen has been arrested after his discarded DNA was linked to the crime scene.
Late night practice
On November 17, 2018 a 71 year old woman was practicing the organ at church late one night when someone broke into the building, came up behind her, and choked her repeatedly. The woman survived but the person responsible for attempting to strangle her was not apprehended until five months later.
Evidence at the scene
The person who choked the woman also broke a window into the church, leaving behind their DNA on the broken glass as well as other objects in the building. Police collected the DNA but did not arrest anyone immediately. The 17 year old teen was apparently a suspect in the case, however it took five months before he was apprehended. This could be because the teen did not have a criminal record yet and was not in the National DNA Index.
When DNA of a suspect is collected at a crime scene, the National DNA Index is accessed to see if the suspect is already in the system, making it easy to find and prosecute them. According to FBI.gov, “The DNA Identification Act of 1994 (42 U.S.C. §14132) authorized the establishment of this National DNA Index. The DNA Act specifies the categories of data that may be maintained in NDIS (convicted offenders, arrestees, legal, detainees, forensic [casework], unidentified human remains, missing persons, and relatives of missing persons) as well as requirements for participating laboratories relating to quality assurance, privacy, and expungement.” If the person is not in the system, investigators have to find other ways of lawfully obtaining a DNA sample.
After the teen was apprehended for the 5 month-old crime, Centerville Police stated that “Detectives were able to collect DNA evidence left behind on discarded objects by the person of interest.” Discarded objects that have DNA on them may consist of cigarettes, cups, gum, tissue, bandaids, and anything else that came in contact with a person’s bodily fluids. Touch DNA may have been used as well to collect samples of skin cells left on handled objects, although that method has a higher rate of false positives.
Publicly discarded DNA
When it comes to collecting DNA or any items seized in a search, law enforcement must obtain a warrant before searching items on a person or their personal property. If a person discards items with their DNA on them in a public area such as a trash can on a sidewalk, those items can be picked up by anyone passing by, including law enforcement.For more information on criminal charges following the collection of DNA, contact a defense attorney to ensure all search and seizures were done within the protective boundaries set in place by the Fourth Amendment.