The Supreme Court of California ruled today that “no name” or “John Doe” warrants based only on a suspect’s DNA profile are authorized under California’s laws.
On August 21, 2000, four days before the statute of limitations would have expired, the Sacramento County District Attorney filed a felony complaint against “John Doe, unknown male,” describing him by his DNA profile. The next day, a John Doe arrest warrant issued, incorporating by reference the same DNA profile. On September 15, Paul Eugene Robinson was arrested based on an amended warrant that included his name. It was subsequently discovered that defendant‟s DNA profile in the state’s DNA database, which linked defendant to the crimes committed against Deborah L., had been generated from blood mistakenly collected from defendant by local and state agencies in administering the DNA and Forensic Identification Data Base and Data Bank Act of 1998.
In The People v. Paul Eugene Robinson, the court:
granted review to decide (1) whether the issuance of a “John Doe” complaint or arrest warrant may timely commence a criminal action and thereby satisfy section 800’s limitation period; (2) whether an unknown suspect’s DNA profile satisfies the “particularity” requirement for an arrest warrant; and (3) what remedy exists, if any, for the unlawful collection of genetic material under the 1998 version of the Act.
The court opinion is available here (pdf). In an opinion that concurred in part and dissented in part, Justice Moreno wrote:
In my view, the trial court should have granted the motion to dismiss because the prosecution of defendant was not commenced until after the statute of limitations had expired. The arrest warrant that was issued a few days before the statute of limitations expired was not a true arrest warrant; it was a mere placeholder, because it did not authorize the arrest of any individual. It was not until the warrant was amended to replace the name John Doe and the reference to the DNA profile with defendant‟s name that the warrant became effective and the prosecution commenced; but this was too late, because the statute of limitations had already expired.