Defense: John Doe DNA Indictments Can Make It Hard to Try Old Cases


Prosecutors in Memphis’ Shelby County are obtaining indictments in many “John Doe DNA” rape cases in the hope of stopping the clock on the statute of limitations and identifying the suspects later, says the Memphis Commercial Appeal. “That helps us tremendously,” said prosecutor Amy Weirich, “so we don’t run into any problems of the case being dead on the vine before we can even prosecute somebody. That happened with (Syracuse) coach Bernie Fine. The D.A. there said he couldn’t prosecute (sex-abuse allegations) because of the statute of limitations.”

Courts have ruled that as long as a defendant is accurately described in an indictment or warrant, the defendant’s real name can be substituted later for a John Doe DNA profile even if the statute of limitations has elapsed. From a defense perspective, the approach needs more scrutiny by the courts. “What you’re doing is waiving the defendant’s right to a speedy trial and their right to call witnesses and to defend themselves adequately, which is impaired with the passage of time,” said Bill Massey, a past president of the Tennessee Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. “It’s very difficult to defend a case that is 20 years old. Of course, they’re weighing that against the public’s and the prosecutor’s interest in catching, apprehending and punishing these individuals.”

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