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Massachusetts high court authorizes DNA warrants for unknown suspects

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court [official website] ruled Thursday that prosecutors can indict a genetic profile in a rape case, even if they do not know the suspect's name. The ruling will allow prosecutors to indict suspects based on a DNA profile so that once the suspect is identified the prosecution will not be barred by the statute of limitations. The ruling came in the case of Jerry Dixon, whose DNA profile was indicted in 2006 to toll the 15-year statute of limitations on rapes that had occurred in 1991. Dixon was identified in 2007 after being required to submit a DNA sample when he was convicted on separate motor vehicle charges. His lawyer argued that allowing prosecutors to indict a genetic profile provides no notice to the person being charged. The court rejected that argument, finding:

We have not previously held that the constitutional requirement of notice inside the statute of limitations period must be given at any particular point following the return of an indictment. ... Indeed, our long-standing rules of criminal procedure counsel otherwise, and we have never perceived any conflict with art. 12. ... Moreover, while we have concluded that generic John Doe indictments are not permitted by art. 12, the Legislature has expressly vested in the Commonwealth the authority to indict by "a fictitious name or by any other practicable description." ... Such authority, we have said, "is salutary, to the end that, in so far as art. 12 of the [Massachusetts Declaration of Rights] permits, one who ought to be indicted is prevented from hampering the grand jury in the performance of their duty by screening his name and other identifying characteristics." ... The Commonwealth routinely perfects its constitutionally required notice to the defendant, as required by art. 12, after the issuance date of indictment. It logically follows that where the Commonwealth secures an otherwise valid and timely indictment, but inserts the defendant's proper name in the record outside the relevant limitation period, there is no constitutional or statutory infirmity.
Dixon is currently awaiting trial on the rape charges.

In January, the Supreme Court of California also upheld [JURIST report] the use of "John Doe" arrest warrants based on DNA profiles. In May, a federal court upheld the constitutionality [JURIST report] of mandatory DNA collection for all persons arrested or detained under federal authority. Judge Gregory Hollows of the US District Court for the Eastern District of California [official website] found that although the collection of DNA from those arrested on federal felony, sexual abuse, or violent crime charges does constitute a "search" within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment, a person arrested based on probable cause "has a diminished expectation of privacy in his own identity." Federal agencies began collecting DNA samples [JURIST report] in 2008, although they had been authorized to do so since 2006.

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