In the comments to yesterday's post on prosecutor's use of a DNA-backed John Doe warrant passing appelate court muster, my friend Dodd, a lawyer, opined that from his read the appeals court was correct:
I admit that, even though my knee-jerk reaction is to try and find a reason to be against this, the court seems to have got it right. A DNA-tagged warrant is, as they said, far more specific than one tied to a description.
I also admit that my initial reaction was less than favorable; the headline at FARK read "Court rules prosecutors can get around statute of limitations laws by charging "John Doe" with crime, adding actual name when they finally solve case," which I don't feel accurately reflects the actual story. The key difference is tagging the John Doe warrant to the perp's DNA, which the court agreed was at least as accurate an identifier as a name or description. (Couldn't a DA issue a John Doe indictment for an unidentified perp if, say, his face was clearly captured by a surveillance camera?)
As I was heading home yesterday, I was thinking: Sexual assault/rape is a difficult crime to prosecute for a number of reasons, not the least of which is difficulty in identifying and charging the perpetrator. Since this tactic at least initially appears to pass muster, I wondered if prosecutors couldn't collect a DNA sample from a rape kit and issue a John Doe warrant for the person matching that sample; subsequent DNA tests on arrestees would have a better chance of a "hit" if the DNA is linked to a larger number of crimes. If a hit occurred, prosecutors would have an automatic indictment ready to go.
This process wouldn't help utterly unreported assaults, but if memory serves me right, some women do get hospital treatment even if they don't actively seek prosecution. And since reluctance to come forward is a problem, this system may help there too: A woman's testimony would not be required for probable cause, although it probably would be at trial to establish the sample was obtained as a result of non-consensual activity. Still, it might make things easier for the victim: They would not have to come forward to bring charges; the perp's own DNA would do that. And since the prosecutors would already have a match, it might encourage women to testify -- they'd know the creep was facing charges already, and that their appearance in court would be the decisive factor in putting him away.
Just some musings...if you have any thoughts, please leave a comment.