CrimProf Blog

Editor: Kevin Cole
Univ. of San Diego School of Law

Monday, July 15, 2013

Unidentified defendants

From the New York Times:

Court records had listed the man as “Fnu Lnu,” shorthand for “First name unknown, Last name unknown.” The acronym is often used in the early stages of a criminal case, when investigators cannot identify a voice on a wiretap, or the identity of someone picked up in an immigration sweep.

. . . 

But the designation, at once mysterious and common, has taken on a life of its own in courts around the country, with Fnu Lnus being mistaken for an actual name, confusing judges and lawyers, and in one case spawning a memorable newspaper correction and even an Off Broadway play.

At any given time there can be hundreds of Fnu Lnus in the court system. Such defendants’ identities are usually sorted out quickly, through fingerprints or by other means. But in rare cases where defendants have remained anonymous throughout their entire prosecution, defense lawyers end up making arguments that can border on the surreal.

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