How DNA on a Stamp Can Lead to a Criminal Indictment

By Lisa M. Schaffer, Esq. on October 18, 2018 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Earlier this month, a Wisconsin District Attorney filed felony charges against a DNA profile for a crime committed six years ago. The statute of limitations was about to expire the next day for anonymous threats made against a sitting judge, and the prosecution felt strongly this perpetrator should face the charges, whomever he or she was.

Therefore, under Wisconsin's liberal interpretation of DNA laws, the state filed charges against the John Doe DNA profile on the nine cent stamp affixed to the envelope the threatening letter was mailed in. Prosecutors are hoping they can eventually learn the identity of the person that matches the DNA profile, and bring him or her to justice.

Indicting on Saliva

In this case, there was just enough saliva on the back of the nine cent stamp to recover sufficient DNA to identify the suspect, but just not the name. The anonymous letter sender, called John Doe, mailed two threatening letters to Dane County Circuit Court Judge Juan Colas back in 2012, criticizing Colas's decision that struck down collective bargaining rights. One letter bordered on racial hate speech, the other threatened physical violence.

The DNA recovered on one of the stamps used matched that found on other anonymous threatening letters mailed to three other public officials in Wisconsin. Based on this evidence, In October 2018, the state filed felony charges in the case entitled State of Wisconsin vs. John Doe, Unknown Male With Matching Deoxyribonucleic Acid (DNA) Profile at Genetic Locations D3S1358 (15, 18), etc.

Why Use DNA Profile Indictments?

Wisconsin leads the nation in charges filed against DNA profiles, called DNA Profile Indictments. These indictment, rarely used by prosecutors, are brought in when no suspect can be identified, but their genetic makeup can be. The hope is that eventually the DNA will be matched with a person through the the national DNA database, known as CODIS, for committing another crime someplace else.

In the past, most of the underlying crimes in these DNA Profile Indictments have been sexual assault crimes. Many states have lifted or dramatically extended the statute of limitations on sexual assault crimes so that there is no need to file charges against an unidentified suspect in order to timely file. But there are a few other crimes where prosecutors feel strongly that, as a matter of public policy, certain perpetrators need to be brought to justice, no matter how long it takes, in order to establish general deterrence.

Potential Uphill Battle for the Prosecution

Prosecutors can use DNA Profile Indictments to beat the statute of limitations, but that doesn't mean they will be successful in bringing the perpetrator to justice, or even securing a favorable verdict. The suspect still needs to be found and brought before the court. The defense will then assert Sixth Amendment rights to a speedy trial and due process, the faults in DNA evidence, and in this case, the defense may say that the spit on the stamp may belong to the defendant, but the defendant didn't put the offending letter in the envelope.

If you or someone you love is facing a trial based on DNA evidence, contact a local criminal defense attorney. There are still many gaps in using DNA as evidence, and a legal advisor will be able to help navigate the road you have ahead of you. Contact one sooner, rather than later, to get your best defense.

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