Micah Sucherman

People v. Robinson: Developments and Problems in the Use of John Doe DNA Arrest Warrants

Last year, the California Supreme Court decided People v. Robinson, a case in which the defendant was convicted of rape for an incident that occurred in 1994. DNA evidence gathered at the scene provided extraordinarily persuasive evidence that he was the perpetrator. Despite this evidence, the case was unusual for an important reason: authorities did not locate Robinson until after the six-year statute of limitations had run on the crime. The arrest warrant had issued just days before the statute had run, but it did not contain Robinson’s name or a physical description. Rather, it contained only a DNA profile created by the California Department of Justice. Robinson was not located by traditional police procedure; he was found after a computer matched the DNA profile from the arrest warrant with DNA collected after Robinson had been arrested for a second crime.

This Note examines the history of courts’ treatment of these so-called “John Doe” DNA arrest warrants, their constitutionality, and their statutory validity in California. It then examines the California Supreme Court’s decision in People v. Robinson, ultimately arguing that the decision—while correct—overreaches with respect to the exclusionary rule and the statute of limitations.