The Shelby County District Attorney is fighting to stop criminals from taking advantage of the statute of limitations with a new technique called "indicting DNA."
(WMC-TV) - The Shelby County District Attorney is fighting to stop criminals from taking advantage of the statute of limitations with a new technique called "indicting DNA."
District Attorney Amy Weirich said the new approach would stop the clock on the statute of limitations for heinous, life-changing crimes.
"If we get one rapist off the streets because of this, it's worth it," she said.
Weirich will now indict DNA. That means if the identity of a suspect is unknown, prosecutors can still bring their DNA to court.
"A case is made," she said. "There's just not a defendant's name in that indictment like we typically see. The name is John Doe."
Weirich said this would stop the clock on the statute of limitations and will prevent dilemmas like the Bernie Fine case.
Officials in New York said they could not prosecute the former Syracuse University assistant coach because the statute of limitations had expired.
But now, if a suspects' DNA is indicted, the suspect can turn up years later, and the name John or Jane Doe will be changed to the suspect's real name.
"Now, because of evidence left behind by the rapist or evidence collected on the victim from the rapist, we can take that evidence and run it through this database and hopefully get a hit," said Weirich.
With the technological advancements, more DNA is collected on crime scenes than ever before. This genetic evidence would not just be limited to rape cases.
"There may be a situation where somebody leaves behind DNA at a murder case or a robbery case," she said. "We don't know who they are so we do a John Doe."
Weirich said Shelby County is ripe for DNA indictments because prosecutors have a special connection with the police department and sheriff's office.
"Our office has a special victims unit with prosecutors and investigators who do nothing but rape cases, child abuse and child homicide," she said.
Weirich said the goal is to put the victims in the driver's seat.
"As a prosecutor, it's comforting for us to know the wheels of justice are spinning for these victims," Weirich said.
The district attorney has full authority to implement DNA indictments, so the new policy can go into effect immediately.