By Daniel Trotta
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Lawyers for the man accused of injuring 30 people by detonating a bomb in New York City complained that government investigators took a DNA sample from him without his attorneys present and promised a fight to keep that evidence out of court.
Defense attorneys also sought to delay the trial of Ahmad Khan Rahimi, 29, an Afghan-born U.S. citizen, saying a U.S. judge and prosecutors were pushing for too prompt a start for a case that could result in life in prison.
Rahimi has pleaded not guilty to a host of both U.S. and New Jersey state charges that he detonated bombs in New York and New Jersey in September and left behind others that failed to explode.
U.S. investigators have portrayed Rahimi as a jihadist who bought bomb components on eBay and kept a journal expressing outrage at the U.S. "slaughter" of mujahideen fighters in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and Palestine.
Prosecutors want to start the trial in March, as originally set by U.S. District Judge Richard Berman, partly because "there is an elevated interest on the part of the public," Assistant U.S. Attorney Emil Bove told a hearing on Tuesday in Manhattan federal court.
The hearing did not address what defense lawyers called a "serious breach," as described in a letter to the judge, when a U.S. agent took a DNA sample in December.
"An agent met and spoke with Mr. Rahimi in connection with obtaining a DNA sample without notifying defense counsel or giving counsel the opportunity to be present. This breach will require pretrial litigation to determine the scope of any constitutional, procedural and ethical violations," said the letter, dated Monday and signed by Patton, Peggy Cross-Goldenberg and Sabrina Shroff.
By speaking to Rahimi without his lawyers present, the government could give the defense an opening to strike that DNA evidence from trial.
The defense wants to wait until December so it can review massive amounts of evidence compiled by prosecutors.
"Simply because the case has received publicity is no reason for the government to rush to trial," said David Patton, one of Rahimi's court-appointed lawyers.
Berman asked both sides to agree to a start date or else he would impose one of his own.
The Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees the accused a right to a defense lawyer. The Fifth Amendment also protects a defendant from being a witness against himself.
(Reporting by Daniel Trotta; Editing by Peter Cooney and Dan Grebler)