State v. Jenkins – CSC reversed because search warrant affidavit was insufficient

In State v. Jenkins, decided June 20, 2012, the S.C. Court of Appeals reversed a conviction for criminal sexual conduct in the first degree due to an insufficient search warrant affidavit that was used to obtain DNA samples from the defendant Jenkins.

A search warrant allowing the government to obtain evidence from a suspect’s body is a search and seizure under the Fourth Amendment and, therefore, must comply with constitutional and statutory requirements. State v. Baccus, 367 S.C. 41, 53, 625 S.E.2d 216, 222 (2006). To secure a warrant for the acquisition of such evidence, the State must establish the following elements: (1) probable cause to believe the suspect committed the crime; (2) a clear indication that relevant evidence will be found; and (3) the method used to secure it is safe and reliable. 367 S.C. at 53-54, 625 S.E.2d at 223 (quoting In re Snyder, 308 S.C. 192, 195, 417 S.E.2d 572, 574 (1992) (per curiam)); see also S.C. Code Ann. § 17-13-140 (2003).

The affidavit in support of the search warrant in this case contained only conclusory statements by the officer that Jenkins had committed the crime – a statement that the defendant committed the crime without more is not sufficient for probable cause.  To establish probable cause, the affidavit has to say 1) why the police think that the defendant committed the crime, 2) where the information came from, and 3) it has to establish that the information or its source is reliable.

The search warrant affidavit also must establish that the material sought is relevant – for example, where DNA is sought by the police, the warrant affidavit must establish that there is DNA from the crime scene or from the victim with which to compare the defendant’s DNA.  Again, in this case, the search warrant affidavit contained only the conclusory statements that Jenkins had committed the crime, and made no mention of DNA samples that had been collected from the crime scene or from the victim’s person.

The error in admitting the DNA evidence was not harmless, because no other source of Jenkin’s DNA was entered into evidence at trial, and without the DNA evidence in question, the result of the trial hinged upon the victim’s credibility.  The Court distinguishes this from the result in State v. Baccus, 367 S.C. 41, 53, 625 S.E.2d 216, 222 (2006), where the admission of DNA results obtained through an improper search warrant was harmless error because blood was drawn from the defendant on the night of his arrest in addition to the sample that was obtained illegally.

The Court remands the case for a determination as to whether the inevitable discovery doctrine applies to Jenkins’ case – if the government can establish in the trial court that they would have obtained Jenkins’ DNA anyway, which is likely if their claim that Jenkins’ DNA is already in the State DNA database is true, then Jenkins’ conviction will stand.

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