Statutes of Limitations and DNA Evidence (Part 3)

by | Jan 16, 2023 | Blog, Criminal Law, Monmouth County, New Jersey, Ocean County

Justice Pierre-Louis concluded with the following in relevant part: The State’s interpretation of the statute’s plain language, however, is irreconcilable with the entirety of the provision. As previously discussed, this portion of the statute essentially states that the clock begins to run when the State is in possession of the two items needed to generate a match, i.e., identification of an actor by means of comparison. Were we to adopt the State’s reading of the statute and substitute the word “match” for the terms “physical evidence and DNA,” then the statute would prescribe that the statute of limitations begins when the State is in possession of a match necessary to generate a match. That reading leads to an illogical interpretation of the statute and renders the second half of that clause superfluous. If the Legislature did in fact contemplate that a match would trigger the start of the statute of limitations, it undoubtedly could have easily said so.

Furthermore, the State’s suggestion — that the matching of the DNA starts the statute of limitations — completely ignores the language that states the time does not begin “until the State is in possession of both the physical evidence and the DNA.” In using the term “both,” the Legislature signaled that the two items that follow the term are the items the State must be in possession of in order to start the clock.

In sum, a plain reading of the statute leads to the conclusion that the statute of limitations begins to run exactly as the statute directs — when the State possesses both the physical evidence from the crime and a suspect’s DNA sample — not when a match occurs. That reading appropriately construes narrowly the exception to the five-year limitations period. See P.A.F., 176 at 223. And a contrary reading would essentially endorse inaction by a prosecution equipped with all the necessary components to identify a suspect, a reading that cannot be reconciled with the protective purpose of a statute of limitations. See Twiggs, 233 N.J. at 539; Diorio, 216 N.J. at 612.

This case came to the New Jersey Supreme Court on the defendant’s appeal because a three-judge appellate panel agreed with the State’s borderline frivolous position. Under the circumstances, it seems the appellate panel was being results-oriented and focusing on the heinous nature of the underlying sexual assault.