John Doe Proceeding

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A John Doe proceeding is similar to a grand jury proceeding. Authorized under Wisconsin Statute § 968.26, a John Doe proceeding is essentially an investigatory device used to determine whether a crime has been committed, and who committed it. A John Doe proceeding can be initiated either by: (1) the district attorney filing a complaint with a judge, or (2) a citizen's complaint. The investigation must be approved by a judge -- and the proceedings are heard only by a judge (there is no jury).[1]

University of Wisconsin Law Professor David Schultz described a John Doe proceeding as "a secret proceeding [in which] you can require people to give testimony," and "therefore obtain information that you might not be able to get with just voluntary cooperation." Everyone involved with the proceeding, "is told that it's secret, and ordered not to talk about it," according to Schultz.[2] Often, witnesses are offered immunity from prosecution in exchange for their John Doe testimony.[2]

Justifications for conducting a John Doe proceeding include:

  • preventing flight from prosecution;
  • preventing the target of the investigation from collecting perjured testimony for the trial;
  • preventing those interested in thwarting the inquiry from tampering with testimony or secreting evidence;
  • rendering witnesses more free in their disclosures; and
  • preventing testimony that may be mistaken or untrue or irrelevant from becoming public[1]

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External Resources


  1. 1.0 1.1 Marcus J. BerghahnLegal proceedings: What is a John Doe investigation anyway? Hurley, Burish and Stanton, Official Website, accessed November 8, 2013.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Eric Lach,What Is Going On In Wisconsin -- And Why Is It So Secret? Talking Points Memo, October 24, 2013.