Defense Shocked: Court Rules Police Can Use Taser to Collect DNA Sample

180px-Taser-x26In New York, Niagara County Court Judge Sara Sheldon Sperrazza has issued a controversial ruling that police can taser a suspect who refuses to voluntarily submit a DNA sample. In this case, Ryan S. Smith sought to suppress DNA evidence that linked him to two crimes because of the use of the force against him. When told of a court order to obtain a second sample for DNA testing, Smith reportedly stated “You are gonna have to Taser me if you want my DNA.” That apparently sounded like a pretty good idea to the officers in the room.

Ryan is charged with first-degree robbery, burglary, second-degree kidnapping and other crimes stemming from a pair of incidents in 2006. This includes a Christmas Eve holdup of a gas station and a home invasion where he alleged tied up children with duct tape. Police were trying to match DNA evidence from a soda can and a glove at these crime scenes. This is the second such sample that the police sought due to mishandling of the first sample.

Last fall, Smith refused to comply with an order to give a sample. He was stunned and then police took a swab from inside his mouth. What is most interesting is that The Buffalo News reported that officers were told to “use any means necessary” to collect the sample. It is a good thing that Ryan did not say anything about getting a sample “over my dead body.” The reference by Buffalo News conflicts with the account of one supervisor who says that he gave them authority to use minimal force.

Thomson, McDonell, Crime Scene Unit Officer Jason G. Sykes and Detective James C. Galie Jr. testified on their actions. However, Officer Ryan G. Warme was not available — he is in jail accused by federal authorities of conspiracy to distribute crack cocaine, wire fraud and other counts.

I do agree with the officers that trying to pry open the inmates mouth presents a risk to them and could actually cause more injury to the subject. However, the usual response to such a refusal is to hold the individual in contempt. This ruling says that, without any threat to their safety, police can use physical force to force submission. Could police club a prisoner until her submitted?

As discussed in this prior column, sniper John Allen Muhammad was subjected to the same punishment for failing to yield to demands for a sample. Muhammad objected to a medical test that had not been ordered by the court or discussed with his attorney. In response to his refusal to cooperate, the guards activated a stun belt that sent a powerful electrical charge through his body.

The use of force as punishment can create a dangerous slippery slope. Under this theory, inmates could be equipped with stun belts and subjected to shock punishment for a failure to yield to such demands. Officers can clearly use physical force to hold down an inmate while, for example, blood is being withdrawn. They can taser the inmate if he turns violent. However, this ruling suggests that you can taser in response to a refusal to change attitudes and force compliance.

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38 thoughts on “Defense Shocked: Court Rules Police Can Use Taser to Collect DNA Sample”

  1. More use of the Taser as a compliance tool. It was never intended for this.

  2. You have the right to be tasered. If you give up that right and open your mouth anything found can and will be used against you. Do you understand that right?

    Rocket Science Ruling to me.

  3. Somewhere in Europe (Austria?), police recently called-off a decades-long search for a serial killer. It turned out that they were chasing a ghost. Consistent DNA contamination at the swab factory is what they’re thinking might be the actual explanation. It’s just another example of too much faith in modern technology that took too many years to correct. ‘DNA experts’ my ass. Hubris-on-a-stick more like it.

    A society can be judged on how it treats the worst-of-the-worst. If you allow the jailers to use a taser to force (verb) compliance, then that’s not good. It’s a crystal-clear violation of some basic rights. Putting it simply, it’s torture.

    I’m honestly surprised that the judge in this case would fall for the pro-taser arguments. Not because they’re obviously wrong, but because there’s nothing to stop the same argument being made for other forms of torture (such as branding irons, cattle-prods, damp sponges connected to 240 volts, etc.)

    There’s ZERO delta, folks. ZERO.

    By the way, there are a thousand and one stealthy methods of obtaining the DNA sample. No need for stupid primitive torture. It’s not a let-him-go issue. It’s replacing stupidity and torture with just a tiny bit of cunning.

  4. Chris:

    then why are we having a discussion?

    I dont care if he gives it or not. Lock his worthless arse up.

  5. Im not advocating that either but I refuse to feel bad for this guy who was told to give a DNA sample and refused.

  6. Chris:

    that is the optimal solution, but it is not going to happen. Like the poor crime will always be with us. The only way to get rid of it is to have a police state that puts a bullet in the head of every law breaker and that is a scarier thought than crime.

  7. Nobody is refusing him the right of due process. Im not even saying that he shouldn’t be treated fairly. He was ordered to give a DNA sample and refused.

    I do not think we have an out of control police force. I think we have an out of control crime problem, where individuals think they are above the law or dont have to play by the rules. Then when faced with repercussions for their actions they bitch. Bottom line is DONT BREAK THE LAW!

  8. Chris:

    I am sorry, no one should have to deal with that and there are judges that are soft on crime. Even perps have due process because if they dont none of us do. You cannot have an out of control police force (think Gestapo) answering to themselves or the state. In a perfect world the law should be objective, I know it is not because it has been corrupted and we can argue endlessly on whose fault this is.

    The power of the state must always be limited as much as possible, some like big government on the one hand and not on the other. It must always be limited, a large central government will usurp individual liberties.

  9. Puzzling,
    I have been affected by criminals in my community and my family. My mother worked for the dept. of corrections 3 years ago until she was severely beat up by two crips, and only a month ago I was held up at gun point in my own home. So when criminals get treated as such, Im all for it.

  10. Predictably, most in the public (like Chris here) will focus on the crime involved in the case rather than whether or not the government actions were legal.

    This works for Chris until it is members his community that are affected by illegal government actions, or perhaps his family, ar him personally. The theory that only the guilty might suffer under illegal government action is a false one.

    The government has rules to live within. It’s not just individuals that can break the law.

  11. Chris:

    I dont think you can taser someone to get DNA no matter what has been done.

    I would also willingly give DNA if I did not do a crime, but then again DNA is not always accurate and we know that lab techs are beyond reproach and never make mistakes.

  12. If I were arrested and told to give a DNA sample I would listen to what I was being told to do especially if I was innocent. This man is being accuesed of robbery, kidnapping, and a home break in where he allegedly tied up children with duct tape. How is trying to match his DNA with DNA that they found at the crime scene an illegal search?

  13. Chris:

    I don’t think criminals are the issue, lets say you are arrested and refuse to give DNA, would you want to be tasered?

    I think one can legitimately call this illegal search and seizure.

    This is not a good judgement and the police officer should probably be doing some time or at least removed from the force.

  14. Wouldn’t it have been easier to give him a cigar and a glass of brandy?

    A nice Partagas or Monte Cristo maybe and some Hennesy Hors d’age, much more civilised.

  15. Like the treatment of prisoners at Guantanamo, the focus of the public will be on the crimes at the center of these cases, not the constitutionality of actions by the government.

    With this ruling, Judge Sperrazza has stepped onto a slippery slope that leads right into an abyss. If this kind of force by the state is upheld, no one will be surprised where police taser for failure to sign traffic violations or present ID in libraries. Any act in disobedience of the State could be punishable with pain as the government sees fit.

    If the use of a taser to punish and coerce is not torture, why not make it a judicial punishment?

    If corporal punishment is allowed in schools, why not allow the taser instead?

    Why shouldn’t all individuals in jails and prisons be fitted with shock belts so that guards can immobilize prisoners at will? Why not fit these belts with GPS, so that escape results in immobilization?

    Why not fit loud school students with shock belts so that administrators can keep order in the classroom?

    If pain compliance is a valid means to forcibly collect DNA or signatures for traffic tickets, what other methods of compliance can be used? Stress positions? Choke holds? Pepper spray after immobilization? Forced feeding of sedation drugs?

    This is a very dangerous precedent. When it comes to power of the government, we see that what seems ludicrous and outrageous today somehow manages to become commonplace by the time we awaken tomorrow.

  16. What could possibly go wrong with a ruling like that?


  17. What a fascinating decision from an obscure upstate New York court. I wonder how people even became aware of this decision? I wonder if the decision is available somewhere to read? Was anyone following this strange case before it went viral? It’s amazing how such obscure decisions manage to find their way into blogs.

  18. Innocent until (tasered to get the evidence and then) proven guilty. I think there are two separate discussions here actually. One, using force on “inmates” who are uncooperative, that is those already proven guilty of a crime. Two, using this type of force on suspects. While I don’t think I approve of either, the latter cases, at least to me, seem to be much more disturbing.

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