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John Doe DNA Warrants Upheld In California

posted by DNA Identifiers @ 3:10 PM
Monday, July 30, 2012

Two weeks ago, the Supreme Court of California (January 25,2010) ruled 5-2 to authorize the use of “John Doe” DNA arrest warrants. California law, consistent with the US Constitution’s Fourth Amendment holds that prosecution for an offense commences when an arrest warrant is issued and “names or describes the defendant with the same degree of particularity required for a complaint.”

In a brief overview DNA.gov discusses the proper preparation of a John Doe DNA Warrant. It states that “if no offender match occurs in cases which statutes of limitation are an issue, consideration may be given, in consultation with the prosecutor to prepare a John Doe warrant. These types of warrants can identify the perpetrator according to his or her DNA profile. The 13 loci profile generated by the crime laboratory should be clearly printed on the face of the warrant”.

In a the case of Paul Eugene Robinson, a man charged with raping a Sacramento woman in 1994 a warrant was issued three days before the 6-year statute of limitation ran out in August of 2000, this warrant describing only the suspect’s DNA profile. That profile was then linked to Robinson through the California Department of Justice Laboratory SDIS system. Mr. Robinson had been convicted on sexual assault charges previously. {JURIST, Sarah Miley}

Supporters of the John Doe DNA indictments say it is a legitimate way to vindicate victims, prevent offenders from escaping justice, and prevent future crimes. Without the start of prosecution, a case cannot be tried once the statute of limitations has run. This means that if a suspect is identified one day beyond the statutory limit, he cannot be tried for the offense.

Critics argue that issuing an arrest warrant based on a DNA profile is a disingenuous device of the prosecution that evades the statute of limitations and infringes on the constitutional rights of the accused. In the dissenting opinion in the Robinson case, Judge Carlos Moreno stated “the warrant did not become effective until a fictitious name is replaced with the suspect’s real name, and at that point the statute of limitations had expired”.

While the John Doe warrant appears to be in place in California there are still many challenges for it to face before it becomes common practice.

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