NYC Uses DNA to Indict Suspects to Be Named Later

By Brett Israel | October 21, 2009 7:00 am

crime-scene-webFor many rape cases, the only leads investigators have to follow are the clues spelled out by a DNA sample. If after years the DNA isn’t matched to a suspect the case goes cold and the victim never has closure. A few years ago, when there was still a statute of limitations for rape in New York City, prosecutors devised a clever way to side-step the ticking clock—they decided to simply indict the DNA profile. Since then, New York City prosecutors have secured 117 indictments of DNA samples in rape cases, linked 18 of those profiles to specific people, and obtained 13 convictions, either through trials or negotiated pleas. Five cases are pending [The New York Times].

Called John Doe DNA indictments, the strategy is also used in a handful of other states to help solve sex crimes, and its success has prompted officials to expand DNA indictments to other types of crimes. In New York, authorities are now collecting more DNA evidence from the scenes of everyday crimes. They hope to use DNA to help solve unsolved crimes from the past that are subject to a statute of limitations, like burglary, robbery or serial car theft [The New York Times]. Opponents of John Doe DNA indictments say the passage of time, along with fading memories and disappearing witnesses, hinders the defendant’s ability to mount a defense, and that old DNA samples are subject to depredation and mishandling. However New York officials counter by saying it’s irresponsible to ignore genetic evidence, especially with modern molecular biology tools.

Related Content:
80beats: DNA Sampling of Innocent-Until-Proven-Guilty People Is on the Rise
80beats: Verdict on Forensic Science: It’s Quite Bad
DISCOVER: Q & A with Eric Juengst—discusses the FBI’s genetic database
DISCOVER: Reasonable Doubt—questions about the forensic infallibility of DNA emerge

Image: flickr / [puamelia]

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health & Medicine, Technology
  • Gadfly

    There is a statute of limitations on crimes for a reason and this undermines it. Sex crimes are heinous enough to warrant overstepping the bounds a bit but I am uncomfortable with using it for lesser crimes.

  • Kevin


    @Gadfly: The bounds are meaningless if they are bypassed like this.

    “Indict the profile?” And then name the suspect later? Garbage. The State has enormous resources, a defendant few.

    For sex crimes, 90% of perpetrators are known by the victim. So why the delay? Why the need to “sidestep the ticking clock?” After all, the ticking clock is … the LAW, is it not? Why not increase the time? Or do away with the statute of limitations altogether?


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