Call it a sign of the times, but Tennessee prosecutors may one day soon be able to charge DNA with a crime. The idea is that charging a genetic profile rather than a person will ensure the statute of limitations doesn’t expire on a crime before the suspect is caught. But, something about the proposed law just doesn’t seem right.
According to WSMV, lawmakers are expected to pass the bill. It passed unanimously in the Senate and is headed to the House next.
It would allow district attorneys to charge DNA with a crime in cases where there is sufficient proof to charge but no suspect identified. Because DNA is usually connected with violent crimes, it would most likely be used in homicides, sex crimes, and serious assaults.
“Victims should never have a knock on the door saying, ‘Good News, we found who did it. Bad news, we didn’t charge DNA so he’s going to go free,’” said the state’s Assistant District Attorney General Roger Moore.
The statute of limitations is a time frame in which a prosecutor can file charges for a crime. After the statute of limitations runs out , the identified suspect can not be charged.
This legal concept dates back to Roman law and is designed to protect the defendant. There are several reasons for it. One of which is that a person can’t be expected to launch a relatively effective defense against a crime that occurred several years ago. Also, the state has a duty to pursue charges in a swift manner whenever possible.
Both physical evidence and eyewitness testimony can degrade with time, making it less reliable (and we already know eyewitness testimony is extremely fallible). This is another reason the statute of limitations is so crucial in the administration of true justice.
By allowing prosecutors to charge DNA, the state is allowing them to skirt due process. After all, DNA can’t begin to defend itself against the charges and many justifications for the statute of limitations are lost when we are talking about DNA rather than a person.
It’s somewhat shocking that the bill passed the first round of lawmakers without any opposition. It seems lawmakers may be patting themselves on the back for adjusting laws to fit with the changing technology. But while they are busy congratulating themselves and continuing the pro-victim (rather than pro-justice) motivation, they may be chipping away at a crucial element of due process rights.
If you are accused of a crime, whether it happened last week or last year, you need someone who will help fight for your best interests in a court of law. Contact our offices today to discuss your case and how we might be able to help.