Charging candy with a crime, welcome to Gattica

Well, candy with DNA that is. As reported in the Kansas City Star, Police, without suspect, charge DNA on evidence before statute of limitations expires .

As described in the article:

 

A critical crime solver, genetic science has clinched guilty verdicts in murder and rape cases for years. Now, as the technology advances, prosecutors in a few pockets of the country — including Kansas City — systematically use DNA evidence to file what are known as “John Doe” complaints, or no-name warrants, in less serious crimes such as burglary and vandalism.

“If you don’t stop the clock from ticking, there’s nothing you can do,” said Ted Hunt, an assistant Jackson County prosecutor who specializes in DNA evidence. “It’s too late.”

Since 2002, Jackson County prosecutors have filed 28 John Doe complaints, and Hunt said that number would grow substantially. That’s because police and prosecutors make sure they watch the clock.

Whenever a burglary, robbery or vandalism with DNA evidence is nearing its statute of limitation, police alert Hunt’s office, and prosecutors file a no-name charge.

By filing these complaints, and charging the DNA instead of a named suspect, prosecutors put cases on hold until they know whose genetic fingerprint they charged. These cases otherwise wouldn’t be solved within the statute of limitations, and the suspects would be let off scot-free.

Scientifically, I guess this might be legitimate. DNA forensics, though not without it’s caveats, is a powerful tool. Yet, as one defense attorney stated:

 

“If a defendant in a property crime is arrested 20 years after the fact, based on his DNA, he’s not able to defend himself effectively,” said J.R. Hobbs, a Kansas City defense attorney.

There is more to determining who committed a crime than determining if they left DNA behind, of course. There are eyewitnesses (which are notoriously inaccurate even immediately after the fact) and witnesses who have died or can not be found, or whose memories.

I’ll be looking forward to the first Supreme Court Case on this.

(hat tip: raw story)

Edit: links were broken in 1/14 but I needed a version of the story, so I found it here: http://www.mcclatchydc.com/2010/02/15/85118/lacking-suspects-prosecutors-now.html

 

2 thoughts on “Charging candy with a crime, welcome to Gattica

  1. James

    I would certainly think this bit of legal judo gets around the intent of statute of limitation laws. Tracking down people who committed burglary or vandalism decades ago strikes me as a waste of time and money if nothing else.

  2. Trey Post author

    Completely agree frankly. Seems resources (and they mention not every jurisdiction can afford to do this for petty and property crimes) could be better spent on so much more. This is so sketchy as to the legal and practical ramifications, it seems a waste.

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