Metropolitan News-Enterprise


Tuesday, January 26, 2010


Page 1


Supreme Court: DNA-Based Prosecution of ‘Doe’ Was Timely




A rape charge filed just prior to the expiration of the six-year limitations period, identifying the defendant only by his DNA profile, was timely, the California Supreme Court ruled yesterday.

In a 5-2 decision, the justices affirmed Paul Eugene Robinson’s conviction and 65-year prison sentence on charges of forcible oral copulation, two counts of penetration with a foreign object, and two counts of rape in connection with an August 1994 attack on a Sacramento woman. 

The case was prosecuted on the basis of a felony complaint filed in August 2000, four days shy of six years from the date of the attack, charging “John Doe,” an “unknown male,” with a specified 13-locus DNA profile developed from semen taken from the victim.

About three weeks after the complaint was filed, the state Department of Justice lab reported a “cold hit” matching a DNA profile taken from Robinson in 1999 while he was serving time for spousal battery in a county facility. An amended warrant, inserting Robinson’s name in place of the John Doe identification and DNA profile, was issued and he was arrested within days.

The criminal complaint was similarly amended to name Robinson as the defendant, and to add multiple felony charges involving another victim. After failing to obtain a dismissal on statute of limitations grounds, the defense argued at trial that the DNA evidence was insufficiently reliable to establish guilt.

Low Probability

Prosecutors presented expert testimony that the probability of a 13-loci was one in 650 quadrillion in the African American population, one in six sextillion in the Caucasian population, and one in 33 sextillion in the Hispanic population—the victim testified that her attacker could have been Hispanic or a light-skinned African American—and that there were no reported cases of two people matching at all 13 loci other than identical twins.

Jurors convicted Robinson on the five counts arising from the 1994 attack and found that he used a knife during the commission of the offenses. The other charges were dismissed after jurors deadlocked.

Judge Peter Mering sentenced Robinson to the maximum on each count and each enhancement allegation, describing the defendant—who had been allegedly convicted of 15 felonies that could not be used for enhancement purposes because they occurred after the 1994 incident—as a sophisticated serial rapist. The Third District Court of Appeal affirmed.

Clock Stopped

Justice Ming Chin, writing yesterday for the high court, said the lower courts did not err. Chin said the prosecution was timely under Penal Code Sec. 804(d), which stops the limitations clock when an arrest warrant is issued, “provided the warrant names or describes the defendant with the same degree of particularity required for an indictment, information, or complaint.”

Sec. 815, the justice noted, specifically permits the use of warrants designating the suspect by a fictitious name as long as the person is described with the required particularity.

“State courts that have considered the validity of a warrant that described the suspect by his DNA profile have concluded that a unique DNA profile qualifies as a reasonable means of identifying the subject of a warrant or complaint when that DNA profile is the best description available,” Chin wrote, adding that those rulings were persuasive.

Chin also rejected the defense argument that a DNA profile does not qualify as a description, since it does not provide information that an officer can use to visually identify the suspect. The description requirement, the justice said, exists only to make certain that the police arrest the suspect for whom the warrant was issued and not somebody else, and “is satisfied and preserved by incorporation of a suspect’s unique DNA profile in an arrest warrant.”

The high court ruled that the DNA test results are not subject to the exclusionary rule on the ground that spousal battery was not one of the qualifying offenses for which the DNA and Forensic Identification Data Base and Data Bank Act of 1998 permitted the taking of a DNA sample at the time.

Chin agreed with the lower courts that the police error in taking the sample did not amount to a constitutional violation.

Chin was joined by Chief Justice Ronald M. George and Justices Joyce L. Kennard, Marvin Baxter, and Carol Corrigan.

Justice Carlos Moreno, joined by Justice Kathryn M. Werdegar, argued in dissent that the case should have been dismissed on statute of limitations grounds.

“The DNA arrest warrant in this case was not a true warrant, because it did not authorize the arrest of anyone,” Moreno declared. “It was a shell, a clever artifice designed to satisfy the statute of limitations so the criminal investigation could continue indefinitely until the perpetrator was identified. The filing of the DNA arrest warrant in this case did not commence a criminal prosecution against defendant and, thus, did not satisfy the statute of limitations.”

The case is People v. Robinson, 10 S.O.S. 330.


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