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Statute of limitations, § 939.74(1) — sufficiency of “John Doe” complaint’s identification of defendant for purposes of tolling statute of limitations; denial of right to self-representation or to substitution of counsel

State v. Rodney Washington, 2012AP1015-CR, District 1, 3/26/13; court of appeals decision (not recommended for publication); case activity

Statute of limitations, § 939.74(1) — sufficiency of “John Doe” complaint’s identification of defendant for purposes of tolling statute of limitations

The crimes in this case—sexual assault and robbery—were alleged to have occurred in 1994 and 1995. In 2000, eleven days before the statute of limitations was to run, the state filed a criminal complaint charging “John Doe #5” based on biological evidence collected at the crime scenes and analyzed for DNA. The identifying information in the caption of the complaint described John Doe #5 as an “Unknown Male with Matching Deoxyribonucleic Acid (DNA) Profile at Genetic Locations D1S7, D2S44, D4S139, D5S110, D10S28, and D17S79.” The actual DNA profile was not included in the complaint. (¶2). In 2007, the State Crime Lab matched Washington’s DNA to the DNA on each of the victims, and the state filed an amended complaint naming Washington as the defendant. Unlike the original complaint, the amended complaint listed a series of numbers at each of the genetic locations, thereby providing information as to the perpetrator’s specific DNA profile. (¶3).

Applying State v. Dabney, 2003 WI App 108, 264 Wis. 2d 843, 663 N.W.2d 366, and State v. Davis, 2005 WI App 98, 281 Wis. 2d 118, 698 N.W.2d 823, the court of appeals holds that the complaint satisfied the requirement that it identify with reasonable certainty who is being charged even though it did not contain an individual DNA profile:

¶19      In Dabney, we held that a John Doe complaint and arrest warrant that identified the defendant by a DNA profile satisfied the requirements that a complaint state “who” is charged and that the arrest warrant describe the person to be arrested with “reasonable certainty.” Id., ¶¶8-15. In Davis, we reaffirmed that “the State is permitted to file a complaint, which identifies the defendant only by his DNA profile.” Id., 281 Wis. 2d 118, ¶32. …. Washington attempts to distinguish this case, arguing that the complaints and arrest warrants in Dabney and Davis included the defendants’ entire DNA profile, whereas here, the complaint and arrest warrant did not include a DNA profile, but rather, only included the locations of six DNA markers that are common to all human beings.


¶21      … [T]he original complaint set out in exacting detail how the DNA samples in this case were collected, stored, and analyzed. Moreover, it explicitly stated that the defendant in this case is the individual whose DNA “[m]atch[es]” the DNA collected from the victims, and as the complaint notes, the chances of a random match for a nonrelative are substantially greater than one in a billion. While Washington finds fault with the fact that the actual DNA profile was not included in either the original complaint or the arrest warrant, the language in each requiring the defendant to be the individual who “[m]atch[es]” the DNA on file at the locations listed in the complaint and warrant is sufficient to describe “who” with “reasonable certainty.” See Dabney, 264 Wis. 2d 843, ¶15 (“a DNA profile is arguably the most discrete, exclusive means of personal identification possible”).

The court also distinguishes State v. Belt, 179 P.3d 443 (Kan. 2008), which—relying on Dabney and Davis—found a complaint insufficient because it listed the DNA markers common to all human beings, but did not include the defendant’s actual DNA profile at those locations: “[U]nlike in Belt, here, the complaint and warrant did not just list the DNA locations common to all human beings, but also stated that John Doe #5 was the individual whose DNA “[m]atch[ed]” the DNA collected from the victims at each of those markers. That language, in and of itself, distinguishes this case from Belt.” (¶22). But the complaints in Belt said “the DNA description would be unique only to the person committing” the charged crimes; isn’t that the same as saying the DNA of the defendant “matched” that found in the material from the victims? No matter: “[E]ven if the complaint and arrest warrant in Belt were identical to the one before use, we are not bound by decisions made by the Kansas Supreme Court.” (¶22).

Denial of right to self-representation or to substitution of counsel

The circuit court did not erroneously exercise its discretion when it concluded Washington was not competent to represent himself because his behavior leading up to his request to proceed pro se was “irrational and disruptive,” revealing an “obsession with a conspiracy theory” that the John Doe complaints had been fabricated and sometimes resulting in his refusal to participate in the proceedings. (¶¶31, 33-34).

¶35      Such irrational and obsessive behavior led defense counsel to question Washington’s competency to stand trial. And while, after an evaluation, it was ultimately determined that Washington was competent to stand trial, the trial court could reasonably and rationally rely on that behavior to conclude that Washington was not competent to represent himself. His inability to recognize and follow proper courtroom decorum or to identify and argue legitimate legal issues in his own defense, made it logical to conclude that Washington would not be able to properly focus on and understand the complicated DNA evidence that was critical to the State’s case. See State v. Marquardt, 2005 WI 157, ¶61, 286 Wis. 2d 204, 705 N.W.2d 878 (“the record must demonstrate an identifiable problem or disability that may prevent a defendant from making a meaningful defense”). ….

The trial court also properly exercised its discretion in denying Washington’s request for new counsel, as the central conflict between Washington and his lawyer concerned challenging the John Doe complaints, and that conflict would likely have been repeated with a new lawyer. (¶39). Further, the court properly concluded that granting the request for new counsel would have unnecessarily delayed the case given the likelihood the same conflicts would have ensued. (¶40).

{ 1 comment… add one }
  • Robert R. Henak March 27, 2013, 6:05 am

    I might have missed it, but when was the “four corners” rule, requiring the sufficiency of a complaint to be assessed based solely on what is contained within the four corners of the complaint and attached documents, overruled?

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