THE PRESIDENT'S INITIATIVE TO ADVANCE JUSTICE
THROUGH DNA TECHNOLOGY
Providing funding and assistance to the criminal justice system so that we can realize the full
potential of DNA technology to solve crime and protect the innocent.
Understanding the Issue: DNA technology is increasingly vital to ensuring accuracy and fairness in the criminal justice system. DNA can be used to identify criminals with incredible accuracy when biological evidence exists, and DNA can be used to clear suspects and exonerate persons mistakenly accused or convicted of crimes. In order to realize the vast potential of DNA technology, we must improve the current federal and state DNA collection and analysis systems. The President has proposed $232.6 million in federal funding in FY 2004 for his initiative, Advancing Justice Through DNA Technology, and calls for continuing this level of funding for five years - a total commitment of over $1 billion.
One of the biggest issues facing the criminal justice system today is the substantial backlog of unanalyzed DNA samples and biological evidence from crime scenes, especially in sexual assault and murder cases. DNA evidence has helped to breathe new life into criminal investigations previously thought hopeless. For instance, Kellie Greene was viciously attacked and raped in her apartment in 1994. Forensic experts with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement were able to retrieve DNA evidence left by the rapist on Kellie's clothes. At the time of her rape, Florida was not processing DNA casework because of funding issues, and, as a result, DNA evidence in her case sat unanalyzed on a shelf for more than 3 years. By the time Florida finally analyzed the evidence and entered it into Florida's local DNA database, a match was made to the profile of a man who was by then already serving a 25-year sentence for beating and raping another woman. The attack on the other woman had occurred just weeks before the attack on Kellie.
Casework Sample Backlogs: Consist of DNA samples obtained from crime scenes, victims, and suspects in criminal cases. The National Institute of Justice (NIJ) estimates that the current backlog of rape and homicide cases - alone - is approximately 350,000.
Convicted Offender Backlogs: Consist of DNA samples obtained from convicted offenders who are incarcerated or under supervision. Currently, 23 states require all convicted felons to provide DNA samples. Preliminary estimates by NIJ place the number of collected, untested convicted offender samples at between 200,000 and 300,000. NIJ also estimates that there are between 500,000 and 1,000,000 convicted offender samples, which are required under law but not yet collected.
Federal Backlogs: The federal government also faces a high demand for analysis of casework and convicted offender DNA samples. The FBI has a casework backlog of roughly 1,000 cases. The federal government also collects DNA samples from persons convicted of offenses in certain categories, including crimes of violence or terrorism. The FBI currently has a backlog of approximately 18,000 convicted offenders samples whose DNA are required under law.
Solution #1: Analysis and placement into the Combined DNA Index System (CODIS) of DNA profiles can dramatically enhance the chances that potential crime victims will be spared the violence of vicious, repeat offenders. The initiative calls for $92.9 million in FY 2004 funding to help alleviate the current backlog of DNA samples for the most serious violent offenses - rapes, murders, and kidnappings - and for convicted offender DNA samples needing testing. With continued funding over five years, coupled with the other elements of this initiative, this backlog will be completely eliminated.
At present, many of our nation's crime laboratories do not have the capacity necessary to analyze DNA samples in a timely fashion. Many have limited equipment resources, outdated information systems, and overwhelming case management demands. As a result, the criminal justice system as a whole is unable to reap the full benefits of DNA technology.
Timely analysis of these samples can avert tragic results. For example, in 1995, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement linked evidence found on a rape-homicide victim to a convicted rapist's DNA profile just eight days before he was scheduled for parole. Had he been released prior to being linked to the unsolved rape-homicide, he may very well have raped or murdered again.
Solution #2: The initiative will provide $90.4 million in FY 2004 funding to further automate and improve the infrastructure of federal, state, and local crime labs so they can process DNA cases efficiently and cost-effectively. These infrastructure improvements are critical to preventing future DNA backlogs, and to helping the criminal justice system realize the full potential of DNA technology.
We need to stimulate research and development of new methods in analyzing DNA samples.
Solution #3: In FY 2004, the initiative will devote $24.8 million to funding advances in the use of DNA technology. We will solve more crimes by stimulating research and developing new technology to test DNA. Already, scientists are at work finding faster, better, and more economical methods to conduct DNA analysis. The initiative also calls for the establishment of demonstration projects to further study the public safety and law enforcement benefits of fully integrating the use of DNA technology to solve crimes. Finally, the initiative calls for the creation of a National Forensic Science Commission to study rapidly evolving advances in all areas of the forensic sciences and to make recommendations to maximize the use of the forensic sciences in the criminal justice system.
Professionals in the criminal justice system need training to be able to collect and use DNA evidence to solve crimes, and to be able to provide support to victims.
More effective training for law enforcement will mean that crucial pieces of evidence do not go uncollected. Every law enforcement department throughout the country has unsolved cases that could be solved through recent advancements in DNA technology. Today, investigators who understand which evidence may yield a DNA profile can identify a suspect more quickly and with fewer resources.
Evidence invisible to the naked eye can be the key to solving a residential burglary, sexual assault, or murder. The saliva on the stamp of a stalker's threatening letter or the perspiration on a rapist's mask may hold the key to solving a crime.
Solution #4: In order to maximize the use of DNA technology, the initiative calls for the Attorney General to develop training and provide assistance regarding the collection and use of DNA evidence to the wide variety of professionals involved in the criminal justice system, including police officers, prosecutors, defense attorneys, judges, forensic scientists, medical personnel, victim service providers, and probation and parole officers. The initiative provides $17.5 million in FY 2004 to fund these efforts.
Individuals who were convicted of crimes before DNA testing was available should have access to appropriate post-conviction testing. Since the advent of forensic DNA analysis, a number of individuals convicted of crimes have been subsequently exonerated through DNA analysis of crime scene evidence that was not tested at the time of trial.
DNA technology is increasingly vital to ensuring fairness in the criminal justice system. Every effort that is made to reduce backlogs of untested evidence, to better equip forensic laboratories, to develop faster methods of analyzing samples, and to better train professionals in the use of DNA technology, will improve the accuracy of the criminal justice system. As a result, DNA evidence will be used to clear suspects mistakenly accused of crimes, or to ensure that individuals are not wrongly accused in the first place.
The Administration is working with Chairman Hatch and Chairman Sensenbrenner to develop legislation that will provide post-conviction DNA testing to federal inmates in appropriate circumstances. This legislation will represent a balanced approach - it will not encourage rightfully convicted criminals to abuse the system and traumatize victims by reopening cases without justification.
The Administration also encourages states to develop appropriate procedures for post conviction testing.
Solution #5: To demonstrate support for appropriate post-conviction testing of DNA evidence, the President's initiative calls for the creation of a $5 million grant program to help states defray the costs of post-conviction DNA testing. In order to receive this funding, state programs will be required to meet criteria established by the Department of Justice. These criteria will require that DNA testing be performed by an accredited forensic laboratory, and will encourage states to develop plans that ensure prompt DNA testing of persons who may be wrongly convicted and discourage frivolous testing that may cause unnecessary expense and needless harm to crime victims.
Families of missing persons who are presumed dead face tremendous emotional turmoil when they are unable to learn about the fates of their loved ones.
The events of September 11, 2001 demonstrated on a national scale the potential for anguish when the remains of a missing person go unidentified.
According to statistics maintained by the FBI's National Crime Information Center (NCIC), there are nearly 5,000 reported unidentified persons in the United States.
Solution #6: The initiative will devote $2 million in FY 2004 to providing education, training, and additional support to ensure that DNA forensic technology is used to its full potential to identify human remains to aid in solving missing persons cases.