Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts Rules on “John Doe” DNA Indictments

Submitted by Elaine Magliaro, Guest Blogger

Last Thursday, the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts ruled that prosecutors have the right to seek “so-called John Doe indictments” in rape cases. What this means is that prosecutors in the state will be able to indict the DNA profile of an unknown person in order to prevent the statute of limitations for charging an individual with a crime from running out. The justices concluded that a DNA profile is an “indelible ‘bar code’ that labels an individual’s identity with nearly irrefutable precision.’’

The court ruling came in the case of a Boston man named Jerry Dixon whose DNA profile had been indicted in two rape cases before his identity was known to prosecutors. The court said that Dixon’s rights to due process were not violated by the use of genetic information to describe “John Doe” in the rape indictment.

The two alleged rapes occurred in 1991. In 1992, a man named Anthony Powell was convicted of committing one of the rapes. He served twelve years in prison before DNA testing proved that he was not the rapist.

Just days before the statute of limitations was due to expire on the 1991 rapes in 2006, a Suffolk County grand jury indicted an unknown suspect, listed as “John Doe,” on the basis of DNA evidence that was collected at the two crime scenes. Two years later, the genetic material was traced to Dixon who was then serving a prison sentence for an unrelated crime.

Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley said that the DNA indictments “ensure that the clock does not run out on the use of DNA evidence to hold dangerous predators accountable for their violent acts.’’ According Coakley’s office, the recent court ruling resembles appellate decisions in a number of other states.

Veronica J. White, Dixon’s attorney, said “the court had essentially done away with statutes of limitations in cases with DNA evidence.” White added: “The statute of limitations is the primary guarantee for a defendant against stale prosecutions, and [the justices] have trampled on that right today.”

The court said that the Legislature could amend laws that deal with statutes of limitations if it wants to establish more safeguards against stale prosecutions.


The Boston Globe

Nashua Telegraph

8 thoughts on “Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts Rules on “John Doe” DNA Indictments”

  1. Diddo I agree with all the comments that is commented above against using DNA to Indict John Doe. There is a reason why we have a Statute of limitations. Just thinking off the top of my head, the COST to defend your self. Especialy 7 -10 years later. Its been proven over and over if you have money chances are you will beat the case. You people out there that have not had to defend your self in a criminal case need to keep your mouth shut ! Its like the people that tell you: I know how you feel after your child was killed and they dont have any children or have never lost one. I have lots more to say but you get the jest of this comment.

  2. Marnie,

    So “governmental teams” are going to check up on government labs? The conviction power of the analysis and evidence produced deserves more independent scrutiny than that. The lab scandals in Houston and San Francisco underscore this.

    Planted DNA evidence has been occurring, and I’m sure is more prevalent than many expect.

  3. Puzzling, just curious as to how false evidence can be planted in the victim’s vagina or rectum.

    Medical labs have to pass annual “visits” from one or more national level and professional and governmental teams who examine the labs quite thoroughly.
    Remember JCAHO, the federal group that closed hospitals after Katrina because they did not pass inspection? That is one of the examining groups, CAP, the College of American Pathologists, is a national professional group, that inspects medical laboratories.

    If forensic labs do not have to pass rigorous annual inspections, they should.

    The types of labs that do “designer genes” are not the same a forensic labs.

  4. This is very good news.
    It will help to pin point repeat criminals,
    Convict the guilty,
    And clear or exonerate the innocent.

    There are 10s of thousands of unprocessed rape kits around the US. Evidence of serious crimes that are not being processed and the crimes not investigated on the basis of the best quality evidence.

    Hopefully this will end any excuses law enforcement has for not perusing those violent criminals since any one of them could link into multiple others.

  5. This is BS….designer DNA comes to mind….

    puzzling has stated the obvious….

    Bad ideal…

  6. Good luck on getting that legislation passed.

    I think there are two key problems underlying this decision. The most serious is a general mindset against seeking justice-as-balance instead of justice-as-revenge. Yes, it undeniably sucks to be told that nobody can be prosecuted for a violent crime against you because too much time has passed. But it also sucks to be falsely accused and forced to mount a defense for something that happened 20 years earlier. Think of how much has changed over that much time. Forget alibis, many of your potential witnesses have probably died, records been lost or destroyed, etc. It’s easy to say “well that guy was already in prison” and he probably did it, but what about the blind searches where there’s no other evidence linking the person to the crime?

    That brings up the second problem. Prosecution attorneys like to say ‘1 in 6 billion’ odds (or whatever) but that’s nonsense. Genetic markers aren’t random and many communities share many of the same markers among their members. That means that the odds of another match within a community (e.g., men of Puerto Rican descent within a 5 mile radius of the crime) may be 1-in-1000s. Or less. That’s good evidence with collaborating evidence, but as proof alone for an otherwise law-abiding citizen decades later?

    The second-and-a-half problem is that there’s some evidence that DNA evidence can be manufactured. One of the CSI’s even mentioned it in an episode. This isn’t a concern in 15+ year old cases but in a few more years?…

  7. It would be useful if prosecutors found the same enthusiasm for back-testing DNA evidence in cases of questionable convictions.

    DNA evidence is considered virtually “irrefutable”, although this leads to:

    1. State science lab fraud
    2. Planted evidence
    3. Manufactured evidence, demonstrated here

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