In 1989, two 18-year-old Boston girls were abducted and raped by a gang of five men. Last January, the crime still unsolved and the statute of limitations about to expire, Suffolk County prosecutors obtained an indictment of “John Doe DNA,” one of similar cases being pursued across the nation, reports the Boston Globe. The indictments allow cases to be kept open indefinitely. The approach originated in Milwaukee in 1999 and has spread to counties in Texas, California, New York, and other states. Last April, Congress allowed prosecutors to bring John Doe DNA indictments for federal sex offenses.
The idea is expected to expand further as states expand their DNA databases, which will allow the DNA profiles to be checked against criminals whose DNA is entered. “We’re putting a lot of resources into this, but it’s worth it,” said Suffolk District Attorney Daniel F. Conley. “We want to give these victims a chance to get justice.” Defense lawyers protest that DNA indictments are nothing more than a clever device to evade statute of limitations laws, which require a prosecutor to bring charges within a reasonable period of time after a crime has occurred, so a solid defense can be mounted. “It’s a complete end run around all of the reasons we have for having a statute of limitations in the first place,” said Harvey Silverglate, a Boston criminal defense attorney. “It abolishes, effectively, the statute of limitations in a case where there is DNA evidence.”