Statutes of Limitations and DNA Evidence (Part 2)

by | Jan 14, 2023 | Blog, Criminal Law, Monmouth County, New Jersey, Ocean County

The Court continued in relevant part: The plain language of the statute unequivocally states that the time does not begin “until the State is in possession of both” those items. This is a logical point at which to begin the statute of limitations clock because the expectation is that once law enforcement possesses the DNA from the crime and a suspect’s DNA, those samples will be compared to determine whether there is a match. It is unlikely that the Legislature contemplated a situation in which the State would possess both items necessary to generate a match but that the DNA match would not occur given the systems in place to coordinate, maintain, and compare DNA samples both locally and nationally.

Indeed, the DNA Database and Databank Act of 1994, N.J.S.A. 53:1-20.17 to -20.38, contemplates the procedures by which DNA evidence is collected and maintained by the State Lab and forwarded to the FBI for inclusion into the CODIS database. The Lab sends DNA profiles to CODIS for the storage, exchange, and comparison of DNA records contributed by federal, state, and local labs from around the country with the expectation that DNA matches and hits will occur upon inputting DNA profiles into those systems. See id. at 53:1-20.19 to -21, -24. Any other reading would permit the State to be in possession of physical evidence from a crime scene and DNA evidence from a suspect and yet allow that evidence to go untested for an inordinate amount of time, thereby tolling the statute of limitations. That was certainly not the Legislature’s expectation when it created the carve out to the five-year statute of limitations for cases involving DNA evidence.

The State argues that a logical reading of N.J.S.A. 2C:1-6(c) directs that the statute of limitations begins to run when the State is in possession of a match of the crime scene evidence and the suspect’s DNA. The State further contends that the phrase “necessary to establish the identification” indicates that the match is required in order to trigger the statute of limitations.

The State’s position would involve an alternative absurd result. It would allow the State to match a suspect’s DNA to the DNA taken from the scene of a serious crime and then weight nearly five years before charging the suspect. This would ignore the legitimate concern for perpetrators of serious crimes to be apprehended as soon as possible so that they do not continue to present a danger to the public.