'John Doe' Arrest Warrants and DNA Profiles

DNA Evidence and Arrest Warrants
Earlier this year the California Supreme Court approved arrest warrants that rely on a DNA profile to identify a suspect. When a suspect is not known by name but can be identified through other means, state and federal law allows the use of so called 'John Doe'  warrants. The Court in its ruling stated that DNA evidence identifies suspects with sufficient specificity, meaning it meets what is called the 'particularity' requirement, and can be used on 'John Doe' warrants.

The People v. Paul Eugene Robinson (2010)In the case of The People v. Paul Eugene Robinson, the suspect was arrested here in Sacramento in 2000 for a sexual assault that took place in 1994. In these sorts of cases, there's a six year statute of limitations, and just before that period ended the Sacramento District Attorney's Office issued an arrest warrant. That warrant, however, identified the suspect by only DNA evidence from the crime scene, rather than by name. When the DNA profile was matched with someone in the state's DNA and Forensic Identification Data Base a few weeks later, a second arrest warrant was issued with the suspect's name. Robinson was arrested, later found guilty, and sentenced to prison.

The Court's RulingThe State Supreme Court's ruling approved use of DNA profiles for these two reasons:
  • In general terms, issuance of a John Doe arrest warrant signifies the beginning of the prosecution process, and therefore falls within the statute of limitations.
  • Use of DNA evidence is valid to identify a suspect in an arrest warrant, since it's essentially impossible that two human beings will have the same DNA profile.
The Court was not unanimous in its decision, however. The two dissenting justices argued that allowing John Doe arrest warrants based on DNA gives police the ability to ignore laws on statute of limitations, thereby extending criminal investigations indefinitely.

Free and Confidential ConsultationIf you've been arrested under a 'John Doe' warrant, especially one that uses DNA evidence, call Nancy King at (916) 442-1200 for a free and confidential consultation.