California Supreme Court Authorizes DNA Warrants

In a groundbreaking 5-2 ruling, the California Supreme Court ruled this week that an arrest warrant can be issued for an unknown suspect on the basis of DNA evidence. The ruling, written by Justice Ming. W. Chin, enables law enforcement to beat filing deadlines in criminal cases with the suspect’s DNA profile as their unique qualifier.

Bootstrap DNA by Charles Jencks, 2003 by mira66, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License by  mira66

The court held that DNA profiles describe the suspect sufficiently for identification. “A warrant or complaint is an accusation against a person, and not against a name, and [w]hen the name is unknown, the person may be identified with the best description available. … A genetic code describes a person with far greater precision than a physical description or a name.”

Dissenting Judge Carols Moreno, questioned the authenticity of “John Doe” warrants, stating that document was “a clever artifice intended solely to satisfy the statute of limitations until the identity of the perpetrator could be discovered.”

The court’s ruling upheld the conviction of Paul Robinson on sexual charges. Evidence linking Robinson to the crime was discovered when his DNA was mistakenly collected and entered into the state’s DNA database, which matched his profile with that of the suspect profile in the “John Doe” warrant.

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