Volume 56
Issue O
Winter '19

Tolling Time: How John Doe DNA Indictments are Skirting Statutes of Limitations and Crippling the Criminal Justice System

Written By: Emily Clarke

Abstract

In summer 2018, U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia Jessie K. Liu announced that her office would for the first time be using DNA to charge a man in two assaults, even though the authorities did not know his name. Known as a “John Doe” DNA indictment, the indictment identifies the suspect by his genetic makeup, formally beginning the prosecution and allowing the prosecutor to skirt statutes of limitation. Prosecutors in the District and in at least ten other states have used John Doe indictments to effectively toll statutes of limitation, allowing the police to continue their search for the person connected to the indicted profile. As defense lawyers question the constitutionality of these warrants and indictments, prosecutorial attorney organizations and the Justice Department are encouraging their filing.

This note will evaluate the current landscape surrounding the JohnDoe DNA indictments before arguing, first, that such indictments abandon the purposes of statutes of limitation, and second, that John Doe DNA indictments open the door for John Doe fingerprinting indictments, which would ultimately subvert a criminal justice system based on the principle that people are innocent until proven guilty. Rather than using John Doe DNA indictments to take away the rights of defendants on a case-by-case basis, all states should abolish statutes of limitations on felony sex crimes.

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