Thursday, October 2, 2014
Court of Appeal Rules:
Police Cannot Keep Fingerprints of ‘Factually Innocent’ Defendant
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer
A statute authorizing a judge to declare a defendant “factually innocent” of a charged crime also requires that any fingerprint specimens taken by police be destroyed, this district’s Court of Appeal has ruled.
Div. One Tuesday reversed Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Stephen Marcus’ ruling that police may keep the fingerprints of former Beverly Hills Unified School District facilities director Karen Christiansen on record.
Marcus had granted Christiansen’s motion that she be declared factually innocent, under Penal Code §851.8, of a felony conflict-of-interest charge under Government Code Sec. 1090. Marcus also ordered destruction of a post-conviction DNA sample, but accepted prosecutors’ arguments that fingerprints aren’t subject to destruction under the statute.
Section 851.8 provides in part that if a finding of factual innocence is made, “the court shall order the law enforcement agency having jurisdiction over the offense, the Department of Justice, and any law enforcement agency which arrested the petitioner or participated in the arrest of the petitioner for an offense for which the petitioner has been found factually innocent under this section to seal their records of the arrest and the court order to seal and destroy the records, for three years from the date of the arrest and thereafter to destroy their records of the arrest and the court order to seal and destroy those records.”
Marcus had originally sentenced Christiansen to more than four years in prison and $3.5 million in restitution after jurors found her guilty of having secretly negotiated four contracts on behalf of the district that benefited a company that she owned.
The Court of Appeal, however, threw the conviction out last year and ordered the case dismissed, holding that because Christiansen was no longer facilities director at the time the contracts were negotiated, but was acting as an independent contractor, §1090 did not apply.
On Tuesday, Presiding Justice Frances Rothschild wrote for the Court of Appeal that the fingerprint impressions taken from Christiansen at the time of her arrest must be destroyed under §851.8 because they “constitute part of the records of the arrest within the plain meaning of those terms.”
The attorney general’s argument that fingerprints may be retained because they “are used to track arrests as well as convictions” flies in the face of the statute, the jurist said.
“That statutory requirement reflects the Legislature’s judgment that arrests in cases like this one are not to be tracked—otherwise, the requirement that the records of such arrests be destroyed would be nonsensical,” the presiding justice wrote.
Attorneys on appeal were Hillel Chodos, Philip Kaufler, and Michael A. Goldfeder for the defendant and Deputy Attorney General Margaret E. Maxwell for the prosecution.
The case is People v. Christiansen, 14 S.O.S. 4384.
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