The Tolling of Statutes of Limitations (Part 6)

by | Sep 20, 2018 | Blog, Criminal Law, Monmouth County, New Jersey, Ocean County

In Twiggs, a grand jury indicted Twiggs based primarily on Tracy’s confession and his subsequent implication of Twiggs as a co-conspirator in the armed robbery. The DNA extracted from the physical evidence — the hair from the mask — identified Tracy, who, in turn, identified Twiggs.

The State contends that although the DNA evidence did not directly identify Twiggs, it began an investigative chain that later assisted in identifying him. The State suggests that the five-year statute of limitations for armed robbery tolled until the State possessed Tracy’s matching DNA sample, taken after his admission into drug court. Twiggs counters that the DNA-tolling provision is inapplicable because the DNA did not directly identify him — Tracy did.

In the same way that DNA evidence in Jones is insufficient to identify the alleged wrongdoer and trigger the DNA-tolling provision, DNA evidence of a co-defendant is likewise insufficient. There exists no direct link between the DNA extracted from the physical evidence and Twiggs. The State’s case against Twiggs is based primarily on Tracy’s statements implicating Twiggs and other circumstantial proof. Tracy’s statements in Twiggs are no different than Iyonna’s statements in Jones. Such statements are exactly the type of stale evidence the statute of limitations is designed to guard against. So, unless DNA evidence establishes a direct identification to the defendant charged, the mere existence of DNA evidence in a case cannot work to toll general statutes of limitations.

The State argues that our reading of the term “defendant” to include principals and accomplices for NERA purposes in Rumblin should apply to the DNA-tolling context. We decline to adopt a similarly expansive reading under N.J.S.A. 2C:1-6(c). Rumblin‘s NERA-sentencing analysis is inapplicable to the DNA-tolling statute.

An interesting issue that is bound to be addressed one day is whether DNA evidence in a case establishes “a direct identification.” There may be a case where a DNA profile is available and it “directly matches” a suspect according to the state’s expert but is only a partial match according to the defense expert.