Friday, December 10, 2010

DNA Indictment Tolls Statute of Limitations

Yesterday, in Comm. v. Jerry Dixon, the Supreme Judicial Court ruled that the return of a DNA indictment tolled the 15 year statute of limitations in a rape case. In so holding, the court wrote:
Where a general John Doe indictment, bereft of any particularity, must fail as generally anonymous, the converse is true of a DNA indictment: it prevails as precisely eponymous.
Unlike the general John Doe indictment in Connor, supra at 575, which merely expressed a grand jury's intention to accuse "anyone," id. at 578, an indictment of a person identified by a DNA profile accuses a singular and ascertained, but simply unnamed individual. Probably more than proper names or physical characteristics, DNA profiles unassailably fulfil the constitutional requirement that an indictment provide "words of description which have particular reference to the person whom the Commonwealth seeks to convict." 

 The court also addressed the concern that the tolling of limitations may have an adverse affect on defendants' ability to present an adequate defense, and stated that any remedy for potential inadequacies lay with the legislature:

We are not unmindful of the arguments of the defendant and others that DNA indictments may vitiate some of the important public policy purposes that our statutes of limitations serve.
In the event of an especially delayed trial, the defendant has other available remedies beyond challenging the sufficiency of the indictment.
It is in the first instance for the Legislature to determine whether these safeguards, albeit limited in nature and rare in application, are inadequate to protect putative defendants indicted by their genetic identity, but unable to be identified by name before the expiration of G.L. c. 277, § 63. If so, they may revisit the statutory scheme that we conclude permits the practice.