UCI Law Clinics Win Appeal in Case Against Orange County District Attorney Over Controversial DNA Collection Scheme


Clinic students in front of the School of Law building

IRVINE, Calif. (April 21, 2023) — The University of California, Irvine School of Law (UCI Law) Civil Rights Litigation Clinic and Criminal Justice Clinic won a major appellate victory in a case filed in February 2021 on behalf of local taxpayers against Orange County and Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer. The suit alleges that the Orange County District Attorney’s Office (OCDA) is using taxpayer funds to coerce often indigent persons charged with misdemeanors into forfeiting their constitutional rights through the unlawful collection of DNA for the OCDA’s private DNA database. On April 11, 2023, the California Court of Appeals overruled the trial court’s demurrer as to the claims for violations of the right to privacy, the right to counsel, and due process. O’Melveny & Myers associate Abby Formella (UCI Law ’18) argued the appeal. This lawsuit will now return to the trial court for plaintiffs to proceed with the discovery process.

The complaint alleges that since launching the database in 2007, the OCDA has developed a system of taking DNA from people charged with misdemeanors. Through coerced plea deals, prosecutors offer often unrepresented misdemeanor defendants leniency or dropped charges in exchange for their DNA. Once surrendered, the complaint further alleges that the DNA is sent across the country to a private company for testing and is then permanently stored in the OCDA’s private database, where it is not subject to controls on use or dissemination. Misdemeanor defendants who accept these deals must also agree to forfeit their right to challenge OCDA’s retention of their DNA indefinitely.

In addition, the complaint alleges that as a result of the OCDA’s coercive tactics, the database has grown rapidly since its inception. According to recent estimates, the database consists of approximately 200,000 DNA profiles and is larger than the databases maintained by 25 states. The complaint states that this database deprives Orange County residents of their rights to privacy, counsel, and due process, and that it constitutes an illegal and wasteful expenditure of taxpayer funds.

Attorneys supervising UCI Law students on this case include clinical professors Paul Hoffman, Melanie Partow and Katie Tinto. O’Melveny & Myers LLP attorneys Michael Yoder, James Byrd, and UCI Law alumni Jack Day (’18) and Abby Formella (’18) are pro bono co-counsel on the case.

About the University of California, Irvine School of Law

The University of California, Irvine School of Law is a visionary law school that provides an innovative and comprehensive curriculum, prioritizes public service, and demonstrates a commitment to equity within the legal profession. UCI Law students have completed more than 135,000 hours of pro bono work since 2009. Forty-eight percent of UCI Law’s J.D. graduates are people of color. At UCI Law, we are driven to improve our local, national, and global communities by grappling with important issues as scholars, as practitioners, and as teachers who are preparing the next generation of leaders. The collaborative and interdisciplinary community at UCI Law includes extraordinary students, world-renowned faculty, dedicated staff, engaged alumni, and enthusiastic supporters. More information on UCI Law is available here. Connect with us on Instagram, Linkedin, Twitter, Facebook, and sign up for our monthly newsletter for the latest news and events at UCI Law.

Media Contact:
Colleen Taricani
Assistant Dean for Communications