legal development of the day
Here's an interesting case...a Federal appeals court has ruled that prosecutors can issue a "John Doe" warrant for a suspect when the only means of identification they have is a DNA sample. The court upheld the conviction of a man prosecuted for sexual assault after the statue of limitations had expired; the DA had issued the "John Doe" warrant for the DNA match prior to the expiration date, and brought the man to court when he proved a match.
A DNA profile by itself gives prosecutors enough evidence to charge an unidentified suspect, a state appeals court ruled Tuesday in a sexual assault case.
The First District Court of Appeals handed down the decision in the case of Bobby Richard Dabney Jr., convicted last year of assaulting a Milwaukee teenager in 1994.
Dabney appealed his conviction, arguing that prosecutors must name or describe a suspect before issuing an arrest warrant and criminal complaint. He was picked up in 2001 on documents that named him but had originally identified the attacker solely by his DNA.
The appeals court said DNA is the best means of identification available, better even than a physical description or a name.
"It's another recognition of the power of DNA profiling," said Norman Gahn, the Milwaukee County prosecutor who issued the warrant in Dabney's case. Dabney's attorney, Lynn Ellen Hackbarth, declined comment.
In Dabney's case, prosecutors issued "John Doe" papers to prevent the state's six-year statute of limitations for assault cases from running out. Dabney was identified by his DNA through a sample obtained while he was in prison for a 1996 armed robbery conviction.
Dabney also argued that his right to due process had been violated because of the long delay between the assault and his prosecution.
The appeals court ruled that the prosecutors had acted before the statute of limitations expired; even if they hadn't, the opinion stated, sexual assault prosecutions are important enough to allow them to proceed after the statute expires if the state has an unidentified offender's DNA.