People v. Lerio Guerrero

Decided On : 10/25/2016
Issue before the Court: Mr. Guerrero asked the Court to find that the indictment was invalid when the Grand Jury initially issued a John Doe indictment using only a DNA sample from the crime scene and, years later, the Court granted a motion to amend the indictment to add Mr. Guerrero’s name after the Medical Examiner reported a DNA match. The District Attorney responded that Mr. Guerrero had forfeited his right to raise this challenge when he pleaded guilty.
Held: Avoiding the approaching Statute-of-Limitations deadline [formerly set at five years in first-degree rape prosecutions under C.P.L. § 30.10], the Grand Jury handed down a “John Doe” indictment naming the accused only by a DNA profile developed from the crime scene. Six years later, investigators recovered Mr. Guerrero’s DNA from a cigarette butt and the medical examiner’s office reported a match.  The People did not re-submit the case to the Grand Jury. Instead, they simply moved to amend the John Doe indictment by adding Mr. Guerrero’s name, based on the alleged DNA match. Defendant opposed amendment and moved to dismiss the indictment, arguing that the Grand Jury never reviewed competent evidence linking him to the DNA sample taken from the crime scene. After losing his legal arguments, Mr. Guerrero pled guilty.
Finding that the guilty plea forfeited appellate review, the Court of Appeals refused to decide the merits of Mr. Guerrero’s claims. The Court had previously held that a guilty plea forfeits review of a statute-of-limitations claim. People v. Parilla, 8 N.Y.3d 654 (2007).  The majority characterized Mr. Guerrero’s legal challenge as an attack on the sufficiency of evidence at the Grand Jury - an issue which is also forfeited by a guilty plea. See People v. Iannone, 45 N.Y.2d 589 (1978). Since the Grand Jury properly charged Mr. Guerrero with a crime, albeit by identifying him solely by a DNA profile, there was no “jurisdictional” defect that would survive a guilty plea. The indictment amendment also was found not to be jurisdictional because the court “simply added defendant’s name to the indictment.” The guilty plea therefore forfeited that claim, as well. 
The Court of Appeals did affirm the denial of a constitutional speedy trial claim. Though that issue survived the guilty plea [and the defendant’s appeal waiver], the Court affirmed the First Department’s holding that the 13-year prosecution delay violated neither the Sixth Amendment nor C.P.L. § 30.20. See People v. Guerrero, 126 A.D.3d 613 (1st Dept. 2005) (First Department found delay excused by “practical inability” to prosecute and lack of prejudice).
CAL Observes: By disposing of most of the issues on forfeiture grounds, the Court left open some difficult issues in this case identified by Judge Rivera, in her dissent. First, Judge Rivera took issue with the non-jurisdictional characterization of Mr. Guerrero’s claim. “Rather, he claims that substitution of his name for the DNA numerical identifier requires the exercise of the Grand Jury’s accusatory power and cannot be accomplished on submission to the trial court by a motion to amend. The defect concerns who may accuse the defendant based on evidence of a match to the inculpatory DNA, and therefore goes to the essential role of the Grand Jury and the ‘integrity of the process.’” 
Judge Rivera went on to hold, on the merits, that the court below erred in granting the motion to amend. “This is not a typical change of name by which one moniker is replaced with another.”
Since the majority did not reach the merits, the amendment of a John Doe indictment, without resubmitting to a Grand Jury, remains an open question.
ADI order dated March 24, 2015, affirming judgement of conviction.  Decision below: 126 AD3d 613, 3 NYS3d 613.  Lippman, Ch. J., granted leave July 24, 2015. 
ISSUES PRESENTED: (1) Validity of the DNA indictment and its amendment to add the defendant’s name once he was identified 13 years later as the source of the DNA.  (2) Whether defendant forfeited this issue by operation of the guilty plea or his appeal waiver. 

Related Information:
People v Guerrero