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Ninth Circuit Reverses Denial of RFRA DNA Challenge

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals held that a lower court erroneously held that an offender’s belief that he can’t give blood was not a religious belief.

After pleading guilty to federal charges in California, Gregory Zimmerman was compelled to provide a DNA sample. He objected, arguing that giving a DNA sample violates the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), and the First, Fourth, and Fifth Amendments to the United States Constitution. The district court rejected Zimmerman’s arguments. “Without determining the precise scope of Zimmerman’s beliefs,” the court determined that “his beliefs weren’t religious.” Noting that Zimmerman was raised Roman Catholic, the court found that “it’s not ‘central to the religious doctrine of the Roman Catholic faith that one cannot have blood drawn.’”

The Ninth Circuit reversed, holding that “Zimmerman doesn’t have to show that his beliefs are central to a mainstream religion. The Court found that while perhaps not “a mainstream religious belief or common interpretation of the Bible, Zimmerman’s belief that he can’t give a blood sample is based on his connection with God, not purely on secular philosophical concerns.”

The Court remanded with instructions that the lower court reconsider the RFRA claim and make findings on: “the precise scope of Zimmerman’s beliefs;” whether Zimmerman’s beliefs are religious”; “whether Zimmerman’s beliefs are sincerely held”; “whether his exercise of religion will be substantially burdened by giving up a DNA sample”; and “whether requiring Zimmerman to give such a sample is nonetheless permissible as the least restrictive means of furthering a compelling governmental interest.”

The Court upheld the denial of Zimmerman’s constitutional claims, based upon prior Circuit precedent. See: U.S. v. Zimmerman, 514 F.3d 851 (9th Cir. 2007).

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Related legal case

U.S. v. Zimmerman