Thirteen-year-old Jessica F-H lived with her mother and grandmother near Rosemont Community Park in Sacramento County. On Monday, March 12, 2012, she got into an argument with her mom and at about 5:45 or 6:00 p.m., she left the house and walked over to the park to get away. While only thirteen, Jessica smoked cigarettes.
Jessica had some Camel cigarettes that she had taken from her dad, who she had visited with separately the previous two days. When she went over to the park, there were some people just about to leave the park because it was getting dark.
Brief Synopsis: DNA collected as part of an identifying aspect of someone is like a booking photo or fingerprints, so it can be used to convict someone in a later crime, even if defendant is never charged or found not guilty in the crime when the DNA is collected.
Defendant Ryan Douglas Roberts and his friend, J.M. and J.M.’s son, M.K., and J.M.’s daughter, M.A. were there, Roberts and J.M. talked and smoked cigarettes while M.K. and J.M. played on the swings. Roberts noticed Jessica sitting alone on the swings, smoking cigarettes, as J.M. and his kids were leaving the park. J.M. saw Roberts speaking to Jessica, just asking her if she was alright, as it was getting dark. J.M. and his children then left.
The next morning, a lady picking up aluminum cans at the park noticed what she thought was someone sleeping in the dugout of one of the baseball fields at the park. She got closer and realized the person was not sleeping at all, but dead. It was Jessica.
Jessica had a skull fracture and two stab wounds to her neck. She was not sexually assaulted in any way. When J.M. saw the news of the young girl who was found dead at the park, he called Roberts and told him it was the same girl the two had seen the prior evening at the park. Roberts said it was very sad and seemed appropriately shocked. No one was arrested and the crime remained a mystery.
About fifteen months later, Roberts was lawfully arrested, based on an officer’s finding of probable cause, for a felony. As part of the booking process, a buccal swab was taken of his saliva for his DNA. It was then analyzed and his DNA profile was uploaded into the California Department of Justice Combined DNA Index System (CODIS) database. The Sacramento Count District Attorney’s Office then declined to file any charges against Roberts and he was released.
Three months later, Roberts’ DNA profile was matched against DNA taken from Jessica’s belt-buckle area and cigarette butts found in the dugout nearby where her body was taken.
Detectives from Sacramento County Police Department then arrested Roberts. When arrested, he acknowledged being at the park the evening that Jessica was killed, but denied killing her. The detectives had been the same ones who recently arrested Roberts, although he was later released. Roberts told them, “I wanna get cleared of this. Um, I’d offer DNA and fingerprints, but honestly, I’m already in the system. So, you guys can run me.”
Days later, he was charged with first-degree murder (Penal Code § 187) with an enhancement allegation that he personally used a deadly and dangerous weapon, a knife (Penal Code § 12022(b)).
The jury convicted Roberts of all charges and the judge sentenced Roberts to 25 years to life for murder, plus one year for the weapon enhancement.
Prior to trial, Roberts moved under Penal Code § 1538.5 to exclude the DNA evidence because, while it was lawfully collected, it was unlawfully used later to identify him. His argument was that since he was never charged with the felony for which he was arrested, the evidence from that arrest should have been automatically destroyed, or at least could not be later used against him. The argument was that it was a Fourth Amendment violation as an unlawful search and seizure for the government to keep his DNA profile when the crime from which the DNA was collected was never prosecuted.
The trial court denied the motion and after he was convicted, Roberts appealed this ruling to the Third Appellate District, which affirmed the trial court. The Third Appellate District likened evidence of Roberts’ DNA to fingerprints or a booking photo, which can be kept by police after an earlier crime to use in a later crime. So, there was no federal or state Fourth Amendment violation. See also People v. Buza (2018) 4 Cal. 5th 658 (addressing California’s DNA collection law at Penal Code § 296); Maryland v. King (2013) 569 U.S. 435, 186 L. Ed. 2d 1.
Moreover, use of the DNA profile was proper under the Truth-in-Evidence provision of Proposition 8 amending the California Constitution at article 1, section 28, subdivision (f)(2), which states relevant evidence shall not be excluded in any criminal proceeding including pretrial and post-conviction motions and hearings, or in any trial or hearing of a juvenile for a criminal offense.
We bring this article to the reader’s attention because we appreciate Roberts’ argument, although it was rejected by the Third Appellate District.
The citation for the Third Appellate District Court ruling discussed above is People v. Ryan Douglas Roberts (3d App. Dist., 2021) 68 Cal. App. 5th 64, 283 Cal. Rptr. 3d 357.
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