John Doe Complaint With Defendant's DNA Profile Ends Statute of Limitation

Minnesota case law summary by Attorney Richard Clem: Criminal statute of limitations, John Doe Complaint, DNA.

State of Minnesota v. Derek Allen Carlson. Criminal statute of limitations, John Doe Complaint, DNA

In 2006, police officers responded to a residential burglary in St. Louis Park. Several drops of blood were found at the residence, and police surmised that the burglar had cut himself. The Hennepin County Sherriff's Crime Lab analyzed the blood, and determined that the blood matched one person in 10,450,000,000,000,000,000 unrelated individuals. In 2009, a month before the statute of limitations had expired, the state filed a complaint against "John Doe," and identified the defendant by the DNA profile. In 2010, the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension identified John Doe as matching the DNA profile of Derek Allen Carlson, who was on probation. After investigation, in 2012, the state amended the complaint subsituting Carlson's name for that of John Doe.

Carlson moved to dismiss on the grounds that he hadn't been charged within the statute of limitations. The District Court, Hennepin County, disagreed, and noted that the Rules of Criminal Procedure do not require an exact name, but only that the defendant be identified by description with reasonable certainty. The court held that Doe's DNA profile adequately identified Carlson. Carlson was tried on stipulated facts, but he preserved the issue for appeal.

In his appeal to the Minnesota Court of Appeals, Carlson argued that the lower court had erred, and that the charges should be dismissed under the statute of limitation. This was an issue of first impression in Minnesota, although such cases had been decided previously in Wisconsin, Ohio, New York, Kansas, California, Tennessee, Massachussets, and Utah. Most of those courts had held that a Doe warrant was sufficient. However, the Kansas Supreme Court in State v. Belt, 179 P.3d 443 (Kan. 2008) had reached the opposite conclusion. But that case had involved a DNA profile narrowing the defendant down to one out of 500 people. The Kansas court had also agreed "in the abstract" that a unique DNA profile could satisfy the identification requirements.

The court went on to hold that the John Doe complaint in this case was sufficient to commence the case against the defendant. Therefore, the case had been commenced within the period of the statute of limitations, and the Court of Appeals affirmed the conviction.

No. A13-0416 (Minn. Ct. App. April 7, 2014).

Please see the original opinion for the court's exact language.


Richard P. Clem is an attorney and continuing legal education (CLE) provider in Minnesota. He has been in private practice in the Twin Cities for 25 years. He has a J.D., cum laude, from Hamline University School of Law in St. Paul and a B.A. in History from the University of Minnesota. His reported cases include: Asociacion Nacional de Pescadores a Pequena Escala o Artesanales de Colombia v. Dow Quimica de Colombia, 988 F.2d 559, rehearing denied, 5 F.3d 530 (5th Cir. 1993), cert. denied, 510 U.S. 1041 (1994); LaMott v. Apple Valley Health Care Center, 465 N.W.2d 585 (Minn. Ct. App. 1991); Abo el Ela v. State, 468 N.W.2d 580 (Minn. Ct. App. 1991).

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