CrimProf Blog

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

Monday, February 4, 2008

Problems WIth DNA Backlog

From Throughout the country, DNA tests that could pave the way to jailing violent predators are routinely delayed, sometimes for years, because of staffing and funding constraints at crime labs and increasing numbers of convicts being tested.

Last week, Boulder police arrested a suspect in the 10-year-old slaying of Susannah Chase, thanks to a DNA match from Wyoming. Diego Olmos Alcalde's sample that the Wyoming crime lab uploaded into a federal database had waited — untested — for more than three years.

Even the FBI's Combined DNA Index System, or CODIS, which coughed up the DNA sample taken from Chase's body after her death, matching it with the Wyoming profile, faces a massive backlog.

"The FBI Laboratory currently has a backlog of approximately 180,000 federal convicted offender samples that are waiting for DNA processing," FBI spokeswoman Ann Todd said in an e-mail. "Additionally, approximately 50,000 samples have been processed and are waiting to be entered into the national DNA database."

Colorado gave the DNA sample taken from genetic material found on Chase's body to CODIS in 2002. 

Had it been submitted to the FBI in the past few months, there is a chance it wouldn't have been available when Wyoming entered Alcalde's sample little more than a week ago.

In a 2003 study, the National Institute of Justice found 542,700 cases with possible biological evidence either still in possession of local law enforcement or backlogged at local or state forensic labs.

"You need more labs, more personnel, more equipment and more training. It is a chain, and any weak link in the chain can just break it," said Lawrence Kobilinsky, chairman of the forensic sciences department at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York.

"There are many cases out there where a rape kit was sitting around and wasn't analyzed for a lengthy period. That delay causes other people to be raped, murdered and brutalized," said Kobilinsky, an expert witness in cases involving DNA. Rest of Article. . . [Mark Godsey]

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