HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — A Connecticut man should not have been arrested years after a non-fatal shooting based on a warrant that only included a general description of the suspect and partial DNA evidence linked to several unknown people, the state’s Supreme Court ruled Friday in dismissing the case.
The case called into question so-called “John Doe” warrants increasingly being used by police to solve cold cases around the country and get around statute-of-limitations issues. Such warrants, which have been ruled valid by many courts, typically include only a DNA profile of an unknown suspect and are used years later to make an arrest after testing links the DNA to a specific person.
The man, Terrance Police, appealed — and the Connecticut high court ruled 7-0 that the warrant for his arrest was unconstitutional because the DNA evidence it referenced was not from a single person known to be the suspect, but rather from several people who may or may not have been the perpetrators.
Senior Justice Christine Keller, who authored the decision, said it is believed to be the first such ruling of its kind in the country on John Doe warrants issued based on DNA profiles from multiple unknown people. The decision said Police’s Fourth Amendment right against unreasonable searches and seizures was violated.
“In the present case, the arrest warrant affidavit did not alert the judicial authority to the fact that the DNA profiles did not include the perpetrator’s unique DNA profile but, rather, were mixed partial profiles generated from the touch DNA of at least four different individuals, three of whom evidently had no involvement in the crimes at issue whatsoever,” Keller wrote.
“Nor did it apprise the judicial authority of the statistical probability that any person chosen at random from the general population would have those DNA profiles,” she wrote.
Police, of Waterbury, was charged in May 2018 with assault and robbery in connection with an October 2012 shooting outside a Norwalk supermarket that injured a woman. His arrest came about seven months after the five-year statute of limitations expired, but was based on the John Doe arrest warrant signed by a judge a year earlier.
A month before his arrest, the mother of his child told authorities that Police confessed to her that he shot the woman. New testing was ordered comparing Police’s DNA to samples found at the crime scene, and it linked Police to the shooting, officials said.
Police pleaded no contest to the charges in 2019 on the condition that he could appeal, and he was sentenced to 10 years in prison.
His public defender, Mark Rademacher, said he expects Police to be released from prison within the next week because of the Supreme Court ruling. He called the case a cautionary tale of over-reliance by law enforcement on complex DNA evidence that leads them to not undertake other investigation techniques.
Assistant State’s Attorney Timothy Sugrue said prosecutors are reviewing the ruling and will determine whether an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court is warranted.