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DNA - A Prosecutor’s Practice Notebook Inventory

Abandoned Sample

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Photo of examples of abandoned samples including a glass of alcohol and cigarette butt
National Institute of Justice (NIJ) (see reuse policy).

Occasionally an officer may not have sufficient probable cause to obtain a search warrant for a DNA sample but may believe an individual merits further investigation and does not want to alert the suspect by asking for a sample by consent. In those instances, a DNA sample can sometimes be obtained from discarded items such as coffee cups or glasses left at a restaurant by the suspect, discarded cigarette butts, Kleenex tissues, sputum left by the suspect, or other items which might yield DNA.

When a person leaves a biological sample on some item in a public place and that item is subsequently seized by law enforcement, there is no invasion of privacy and thus no federal constitutional right triggered [California v. Hodari D., 499 U.S. 621, 111 S.Ct. 1547; 113 L. Ed. 2d 690 (1991)]. Nonetheless, care should be taken to preserve the chain of custody so that there are no impediments to the sample's authentication.

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