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Univ. of San Diego School of Law

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Wednesday, November 12, 2008

DNA Solves Property Crimes (But Are We Ready for That?)

Results of an experiment using DNA to solve property crimes are in: collecting biological evidence at burglary scenes works.

The study — funded by the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) and evaluated by the Urban Institute — compared burglary investigations that used only traditional police practices to burglary investigations in which DNA evidence was also collected and analyzed. The study revealed that, when DNA was added to traditional property crime investigations:

  • More than twice as many suspects were identified.
  • Twice as many suspects were arrested.
  • More than twice as many cases were accepted for prosecution.

The DNA Field Experiment also found that suspects were five times as likely to be identified through DNA evidence than through fingerprints; blood evidence was more effective in solving property crimes than other biological evidence, particularly evidence from items that were handled or touched by the suspect; and evidence collected by forensic technicians was no more likely to result in a suspect being identified than evidence collected by patrol officers.

Another significant finding of the unprecedented experiment — conducted in Orange County, Calif.; Los Angeles; Denver; Phoenix; and Topeka, Kan. — was that suspects identified by DNA had at least twice as many prior felony arrests and convictions as those identified through traditional burglary investigation.

The results of the DNA Field Experiment have the potential to turn a significant component of our criminal justice system on its head. The implications are that dramatic. [Mark Godsey]

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