Supreme Judicial Court (December 9, 2010)
A "John Doe" indictment that incorporates a unique DNA profile and provides a general description of the accused is sufficient to comport with the particularity requirements of Article 12 of the Declaration of Rights of the Massachusetts Constitution. The return of such an indictment tolls the 15-year statute of limitations for aggravated rape and rape.
In 1991, two women were raped by unknown attackers. The suspect in each case was described as "a black male, sixteen to eighteen years of age, standing approximately six feet tall, and weighing approximately 160 to 170 pounds." At that time, forensic technology did not allow for isolating DNA particles to create a genetic identification from swabs in the sexual assault evidence kits.
In 2004, a person convicted for one of the 1991 rapes was exonerated. As a result, the crime lab reexamined the preserved DNA molecules from both 1991 rape kits. The DNA profiles that were created were identical, which indicated a single perpetrator for the two rapes.
In 2006, just prior to the expiration of the statute of limitations, two grand juries voted to return indictments that identified the perpetrator as "JOHN DOE, (a black male, approximately 16-18 years of age, 6'0" and 160-170 lbs…and further described the DNA profile appended to the indictments."
In 2008, the defendant's DNA profile (on file from an unrelated crime) was entered into CODIS, where it precisely matched the genetic sequence appended to the rape indictments. The Commonwealth moved successfully to amend both indictments to include the defendant's name, Jerry Dixon. The defendant moved to dismiss the indictments arguing that the statute of limitations had lapsed. The defendant claimed that he was not on notice of his indictment until his name was added two years after the 15-year period had expired.
In 2009, a Superior Court judge reported the following question to the Appeals Court, and the SJC transferred the matter on its own initiative:
"Does the statute of limitations set forth in G. L. c. 277, § 63, bar the prosecution of the defendant for the crimes of aggravated rape (G. L. c. 265, § 22 [a]), and rape (G. L. c. 265, § 22 [b]), where the Suffolk County grand jury returned indictments on these charges within the period of the statute of limitations that identify the perpetrator . . . as 'JOHN DOE (a black male, approximately 16-18 years of age, 6'0" and 160-170 lbs, as of July 13, 1991, and further described by the [deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA)] profile appended to the indictments . . .),' and where the indictments did not identify the perpetrator as Jerry Dixon until after the expiration of the statute of limitations, when his DNA profile was determined to match the DNA profile contained in each of the indictments?"
The Court's Analysis
The defendant objected to the adequacy of his identification in the indictment. The Court reviewed the meaning of the identification requirement as explained in Connor v. Commonwealth, 363 Mass. 572 (1973), where an indictment was returned against "John Doe," without any accompanying information. The Court found in Connor that "John Doe" standing alone, was "synonymous with anonymity," and such a description was insufficient to pass constitutional muster. In this case, however, the "John Doe" indictments identified a unique DNA profile, and as such, accused a "singular and ascertained, but simply unnamed individual."
The Court found that the plain language of G.L. c. 277, § 63 tolled the statute of limitations in this case, as the indictments were "found and filed" with the statutory 15-year period. The Court then reviewed and disagreed with the defendant's due process claims.
The Court's Ruling
The Court concluded that the prosecution was not time barred. The Court found that: (1) the description of "John Doe" in the indictment, consisting of the defendant's unique DNA profile and bolstered by descriptions of race, age, weight and height, complied with the particularity requirements of Art. 12 of the Declaration of Rights of the Massachusetts Constitution; and (2) the return of such an indictment tolled the 15-year statute of limitations for aggravated rape and rape. Therefore, the Court's answer to the reported question was, "No.'"