The Washington State Supreme Court is considering whether Seattle police went too far when they staged an elaborate ruse to get a man’s DNA to solve a 1982 murder, reports the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. John Athan licked a return envelope because he thought he was taking part in a class-action lawsuit over parking tickets. Actually, he had fallen for a police ruse aimed at getting a sample of his DNA. Lawyer John Muenster said detectives who sent Athan the phony class-action notice not only broke the law by pretending to be lawyers, but also violated his privacy and undermined the trust that people should be able to have in their attorneys. Prosecutor Catherine McDowall said investigators weren’t intruding on Athan’s private communications; they were merely interested in his saliva.
Athan’s DNA matched semen found two decades earlier on the body of Kristen Sumstad, 13, who was strangled. Several justices agreed that police can get DNA evidence by following a suspect around town and waiting for the person to leave behind a few hairs or spit on the ground. The fact that police posed as lawyers — and committed a misdemeanor under state law by doing so — seemed to trouble some justices.