New York City will review biological evidence from hundreds of unsolved sex crimes in the hope of indicting the unidentified attackers based on their DNA profiles before the 10-year statute of limitations runs out, the New York Times says.
In the John Doe Indictment Project, investigators will seek to tie the most serious unsolved sex crimes to specific DNA profiles, then file charges even before they have linked a name to the DNA or have made an arrest. The first 600 cases for which evidence will be reviewed concern attacks in 1994. If the indictments are completed before the prosecution clock runs out, law enforcement officials believe the person with that DNA can be prosecuted any time in the future.
The project is the first of its kind, said Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, although individual “John Doe indictments” based on DNA have been filed in New York City and a few other places. There have been roughly 20 cases in the city, mostly in Manhattan, which used the practice in the unsolved case of an East Side rapist who has been linked to more than a dozen sexual attacks from the 1990’s.
New York law requires a felony prosecution within five years of the crime, or within 10 years if the criminal’s identity is unknown. The purpose of the limitation is to protect the accused against fading memories and lost witnesses. An indictment that identifies the attacker simply by DNA – usually in semen collected soon after a crime – indefinitely preserves the ability to prosecute.
A $350,000 federal grant will cover the cost of one prosecutor and one investigator in each of the city’s five district attorney’s offices to review the cases. John Feinblatt, the mayor’s criminal justice coordinator, could not say how many indictments would be filed; officials stressed that they would be sought only if the victim could be found and would be willing to testify before a grand jury.