State v. Carlson, A13–0416.

Decision Date07 April 2014
Docket NumberNo. A13–0416.,A13–0416.
Citation845 N.W.2d 827
CourtMinnesota Court of Appeals
PartiesSTATE of Minnesota, Respondent, v. Derek Allen CARLSON, Appellant.


Syllabus by the Court

A complaint warrant identifying the defendant of a burglary as John Doe,” an unknown male, with a unique DNA profile satisfies the particularity requirements of the warrant clause of the Fourth Amendment and the “reasonable certainty” requirement of Minn. R.Crim. P. 3.02, subd. 1. As a result, criminal prosecution is not time-barred when a John Doe DNA complaint is filed within the applicable statute of limitations period.

Lori Swanson, Attorney General, St. Paul, MN; and Michael O. Freeman, Hennepin County Attorney, Linda M. Freyer, Assistant County Attorney, Minneapolis, MN, for respondent.

Cathryn Middlebrook, Chief Appellate Public Defender, Bridget Kearns Sabo, Assistant Public Defender, and Tara Reese Duginske, Special Assistant State Public Defender, St. Paul, MN, for appellant.

Considered and decided by WORKE, Presiding Judge; LARKIN, Judge; and KIRK, Judge.


KIRK, Judge.

In a case of first impression, appellant Derek Allen Carlson challenges his conviction of felony second-degree burglary, arguing that the complaint warrant that identified him by his unique DNA profile failed to describe him with reasonable certainty, and respondent State of Minnesota should have been barred from prosecuting him after the three-year statute of limitations had expired. We conclude that the complaint satisfied the constitutional and rule requirements under the warrant clause of the Fourth Amendment and Minn. R.Crim. P. 3.02, subd. 1. Thus, the complaint was sufficient to commence the prosecution under the applicable statute of limitations. We affirm.


The facts of this case are undisputed. On July 15, 2006, police officers responded to a reported residential burglary in St. Louis Park. A window pane on the front door was smashed and several items were missing from the residence, including a laptop, checkbooks, a digital camera, and the homeowners' 2006 Dodge Charger vehicle. The police surmised that the suspect cut himself during the break-in because several drops of blood were found throughout the residence. The Hennepin County Sherriff's Office Crime Lab (HCSCL) collected samples of the blood for forensic analysis.

The next day, police officers located the 2006 Dodge Charger in Minnetonka, and recovered some of the stolen property from the residence inside the vehicle. The police also discovered an energy drink can in the vehicle and submitted it to HCSCL for forensic testing. On June 14, 2007, forensic scientists matched the DNA from the blood found in the residence to the DNA found on the energy drink can. From this evidence, forensic scientists identified an unidentified DNA profile comprised of 15 different loci, which would occur in one in 10,450,000,000,000,000,000 unrelated individuals.

On June 15, 2009, one month before the statute of limitations imposed for the crime of burglary expired, the state filed a probable cause complaint charging the suspect with one count of felony second-degree burglary. The complaint identified the suspect as John Doe,” an unknown male, and described him by his 15–loci DNA profile. On February 8, 2010, the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension sent a letter to HCSCL stating that the DNA profile generated from the crime scenes matched the DNA from appellant, who was on probation.

On March 17, 2010, HCSCL notified the St. Louis Park Police Department that appellant's DNA profile linked him to the July 2006 burglary. A St. Louis Park police officer interviewed appellant on June 30. Appellant voluntarily spoke with the officer without a lawyer present. When the officer confronted appellant with the fact that his DNA was found at the scene of the burglary, appellant repeatedly asked how long ago the burglary occurred and denied any involvement. Appellant admitted that around the time of the burglary his memory was totally impaired due to excessive drinking and drugs, but he recalled discovering items in his apartment that did not belong to him. Appellant stated that he had enemies at that time who may have placed his blood at the residence to implicate him in the burglary.

On August 19, 2010, police secured a search warrant and obtained a DNA sample from appellant, which matched the DNA found at the crime scenes. Seventeen months later, on January 26, 2012, the state filed an amended complaint substituting appellant's name and birth date for John Doe.”

On May 4, 2012, appellant moved to dismiss the amended complaint because the description of the DNA profile in the original complaint did not identify him with reasonable certainty and because the state failed to charge him within the three-year statute of limitations for burglary. The district court denied appellant's motion, noting that if the complaint must state the exact name of the defendant at the time of initial charging, the second clause of Minn. R.Crim. P. 3.02, subd. 1, requiring an unknown defendant to be described by “any name or description by which the defendant can be identified with reasonable certainty,” would lack any meaning. The district court reasoned that when the state attached the DNA profile to John Doe in the title of the complaint, “that was as much particularity as the [s]tate could accomplish at the time of charging.” The district court noted on the record that it found support in its analysis in three cases from other jurisdictions: State v. Dabney, 264 Wis.2d 843, 663 N.W.2d 366 (Wis.Ct.App.2003); People v. Martinez, 52 A.D.3d 68, 855 N.Y.S.2d 522 (N.Y.App.Div.2008); and People v. Robinson, 47 Cal.4th 1104, 104 Cal.Rptr.3d 727, 224 P.3d 55 (2010).

On October 2, 2012, appellant waived his right to a jury trial and agreed to proceed with a stipulated-facts trial in order to preserve appellate review of the pretrial ruling under Minn. R.Crim. P. 26.01, subd. 4. On October 8, 2012, the district court found appellant guilty of felony second-degree burglary. The district court stayed imposition of appellant's sentence for three years and placed him on probation.


1. Does the complaint warrant identifying John Doe and his DNA profile as the defendant describe him with reasonable certainty under the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution and under Minn. R.Crim. P. 3.02, subd. 1?

2. Does the complaint warrant identifying John Doe and his DNA profile as the defendant satisfy the statute of limitations on the crime charged?

I. The complaint warrant identifying John Doe with a DNA profile describes appellant with reasonable certainty under the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution and Minn. R.Crim. P. 3.02, subd. 1.

Constitutional challenges are questions of law, which this court reviews de novo. State v. Bussmann, 741 N.W.2d 79, 82 (Minn.2007). Under the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution “no [w]arrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by [o]ath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.” U.S. Const. amend. IV. The Fourth Amendment protects individuals from general warrants that fail to establish a sufficient nexus between the criminal activity, the place of the activity, and the persons in the place to show probable cause. State v. Robinson, 371 N.W.2d 624, 625 (Minn.App.1985). The Minnesota Constitution prohibits unlawful searches and seizure using almost identical language. Minn. Const. art. 1, § 10. Minn. R.Crim. P. 3.02, subd. 1, codifies the federal and state constitutional standard for Minnesota arrest warrants, stating a complaint warrant “must contain the name of the defendant, or, if unknown, any name or description by which the defendant can be identified with reasonable certainty.”

This court reviews the interpretation of procedural rules de novo. State v. Martinez–Mendoza, 804 N.W.2d 1, 6 (Minn.2011). The question of whether a John Doe DNA complaint satisfies the particularity and reasonable certainty requirements of the Fourth Amendment and Minn. R.Crim. P. 3.02, subd. 1, is a matter of first impression. Appellant argues that a DNA profile, much like a fingerprint, may help to identify a suspect, but it fails to describe an individual with reasonable certainty.

Since 2003, at least eight state appellate courts have considered whether a John Doe DNA complaint satisfies the particularity requirements of the warrant clause of the Fourth Amendment.1 All of the cases involved serious sexual assaults where a John Doe DNA complaint was filed within the applicable statute of limitations. The complaint warrants were later amended to include the defendant's actual name after the statute of limitations for the offense had expired. Most of the courts concluded that when the DNA profile of a suspect is the best description available, a John Doe DNA complaint warrant is sufficient to commence a criminal action. See Robinson, 104 Cal.Rptr.3d 727, 224 P.3d at 80;Commonwealth v. Dixon, 458 Mass. 446, 938 N.E.2d 878, 885 (2010); Martinez, 855 N.Y.S.2d at 526;State v. Danley, 138 Ohio Misc.2d 1, 853 N.E.2d 1224, 1227–28 (Ohio Ct.C.P.2006); State v. Burdick, 395 S.W.3d 120, 130 (Tenn.2012); State v. Younge, 321 P.3d 1127, 1132, 2013 WL 6153712, at *3 (Utah Nov. 22, 2013); Dabney, 663 N.W.2d at 372.State v. Belt is the only case where a John Doe DNA arrest warrant was determined to be insufficient to prosecute the defendant. 285 Kan. 949, 179 P.3d 443, 450–51 (2008). The Kansas Supreme Court concluded that several John Doe DNA arrest warrants were insufficient to identify the defendant because they listed only two DNA loci that are commonly found in one out of every 500 persons. Id. at 446–47, 450. But the court agreed, “in the abstract,” that an arrest warrant coupled with a description of the person's unique DNA profile “can satisfy constitutional and statutory particularity...

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