In a case of first impression in this state, Chief Justice Gary R. Wade wrote on behalf of a unanimous Court that the State can prosecute an unknown suspect by issuing a “John Doe” warrant that lists the suspect’s unique DNA profile.
In 1994, a Nashville woman was attacked in her home but was able to bite off a piece of skin from the finger of her assailant. A “John Doe” warrant was filed in 2000, which was two years prior to the statutory deadline for prosecuting the offense.
In 2008, the police discovered that a partial fingerprint taken from the skin appeared to match a print provided by Robert Jason Burdick. A cheek swab of Burdick and further testing established a DNA match with that of the skin.
Burdick, also known as the “Wooded Rapist,” was convicted of attempted aggravated rape and sentenced to ten years in prison. He appealed, arguing that the State was too late in prosecuting him because the “John Doe” warrant did not identify him by name and did not put him on notice of the pending charge. The Tennessee Supreme Court affirmed the conviction and sentence, holding that a criminal prosecution is properly and timely commenced if, within the statute of limitations, a warrant is issued identifying the defendant by gender and his or her unique DNA profile.
To read the State of Tennessee v. Robert Jason Burdick opinion authored by Chief Justice Gary R. Wade, visit tncourts.gov .