The FBI has over 600 million sets of fingerprints in its files, to include the unidentified latent fingerprints of over 600,000 individuals whose prints were developed at crime scenes, but still wait to be matched to an offender’s name. The FBI DNA profile data base (CODIS) has but 7,000,000 individual DNA profiles of known offenders, or roughly .012 percent of those represented over the years in the national fingerprint files.
The backlog of DNA waiting to be examined and compared to possible offenders has been a national disgrace. By some definitions, a backlogged case is one that has not been tested for 30 days after the sample was received by the local, state or national laboratory, but in some cases the waiting period has been measured in years, or worse yet, not done at all. Due to the statute of limitations, some evidence, even though it could positively identify an offender such as a violent rapist or killer, will never see its day in court, and such offenders will be left on the street. While their identities may be known to law enforcement, they will not be prosecuted for such past crimes, leaving them out and about to strike again.
In 2008, a study suggested the national DNA analysis backlog numbered over 70,000 cases, a number that was growing larger every day. We all know that DNA solves crimes, noting that by mid 2009 the FBI had made over 93,000 hits where the DNA of a known person had been matched to an outstanding forensic investigation.
In Baltimore, Maryland, an increase in DNA case submissions and a decrease in lab personnel resulted in a backlog of thousands of forensic analytical requests, with submissions to its serology section to test for bodily fluids up over 40% last year. Unlike CSI on television where DNA results are obtained in mere hours, investigators know the reality of such testing; weeks, months, even years before they get results back. Because of the lack of money and lab personnel, almost 800 drug cases were dropped in the Baltimore area last year because the results were not obtained timely, if at all. Three thousand, one hundred cases await lab testing for bodily fluids in that area before investigators can move forward, and while some offenders were already arrested, etc., many of these potential offenders are left in society to offend again.
Who Speaks for the Rape Victims?
The Sexual Assault Forensic Evidence Registry (SAFER) Act [HR 6085], a bipartisan bill introduced by Congresswoman Caroline Maloney (D-NY) and Congressman Ted Poe (R-TX), if eventually passed, will help to end the current backlog of untested DNA evidence in sexual assault cases. A part of this proposed bill would, for the first time, allow victims to track the forensic evidence in their own case online, this by an account number that left their name out of the online file.
But it’s not just Maryland that faces a mountain of untested DNA evidence that could bring rapists to justice. Illinois, which to its credit has enacted sweeping new regulations to assist in the processing of such evidence, was found sorely neglect in such forensic evidence processing. The Human Rights Watch reported that the data collected from 127 of the 264 jurisdictions in Illinois revealed that less than 20% of the rape kits booked into evidence for the past 15 years could be confirmed as having actually been tested. The LA County Sheriff’s Department has finally completed a count on their inventory of untested rape kits, and will send over 4,700 such kits to various private DNA labs across the country for testing. In mid 2008 the LAPD revealed it had a backlog of over 7,000 untested rape kits in a storage facility, while in 1999, New York City authorities had close to 17,000 such kits that were warehoused, perhaps awaiting their turn to be tested, most eventually by outside labs.
One of the many problems still to be resolved is the FBI’s insistence that such DNA evidence be certified by a law enforcement agency, i.e., while the rape kits are being tested by civilian labs, the results must still be reviewed and entered into the FBI’s CODIS (DNA) database by law enforcement, therefore less than 700 rape kit results had been uploaded into the national system.
Are We Talking About a Ton of Money to Test Rape Kits?
Because of the tremendous number of DNA analysis that is currently backlogged across America, police laboratories can actually bargain for a better price. The more work to be done, the better (lower) the individual price to process such kits, in many cases around $1,000 per kit. In you consider that the City of Los Angeles recently lost $500,000 in federal grant money designated to help it reduce its backlog of forensic rape kits awaiting DNA testing, this because of their failure to spend the money, you can see that about 500 cases that could have been tested at government expense instead languished in some storage facility.
In California, for example, if DNA evidence has been collected and tested within two years of the crime, there is no statute of limitations; the rapist can run, but he can’t hide indefinitely. If this testing is not done in the indicated time period though, in 10 years the rapist can consider himself a free man. Well over 200 such cases have languished over a decade, and the individual rapists cannot be tried for their terrible offenses, not even in the face of undeniable physical evidence, like, for example, DNA…
There are approximately 180,000 rape kits collected from victims of sexual assault each year in America, with many containing the trace DNA evidence needed to support the victim’s assertions and take her offender off the street before he is able to strike again.
The "Magic Bullet" can come too Late
Most law enforcement investigators and TV detective show fans know that DNA can be “the magic bullet” that positively links an offender to a crime. No ifs, ands, or buts. DNA has also helped to exonerate almost 250 people falsely convicted of a crime, so it cuts both ways. The majority of states now allow the taking of DNA samples from either those convicted or suspected of having committed a violent crime. After all, if police can take your fingerprints, why shouldn’t they be allowed to take, and retain your DNA? And while some will protest this as an intrusion on their privacy or suggest that police could somehow “plant or otherwise fake DNA results,” the good, like in the “Innocence Project,” would seem to far outweigh the potential bad. Just ask rape survivor Jeri Elster (jerielster.com).
On August 27, 1992, an unidentified man broke into her Los Angeles home, pinned her to her bed, cut her clothes from her body, and brutally raped her. Elster, like the thousands of similar victims before and after her, would be changed forever. Over the years she had to force police to investigate her case, eventually discovering that the DNA from her rape kit had never been processed. When she prevailed upon police to process the forensics from her assault, a cold case match was made in 1999, but the statute of limitations would now victimize her. The match was too late and her assailant, even in the face of absolute matching DNA evidence linking him to her terrible assault, and even though Elster was able to pick her assailant (Reginald Miller) out of a photo lineup, he would never see the inside of a courtroom in this case because it had taken the system too long to identify him, and to prosecute him at this late date would violate his rights. What about her rights?
Is there a better Criminal Justice Bargain?
In these challenged fiscal times; times when many cities and states have a hard time meeting weekly payrolls, it still seems like a pretty good bargain to perhaps get a rapist or other violent criminal off the street and away from our families for the price of a DNA test. Hopefully all states, possible with the continued assistance of the Federal Government, will find a way to prioritize such investigations and examinations and our citizens will become a little safer knowing we are doing everything possible to protect them from those who enjoy victimizing citizens by the 10’s of thousands.
For more information concerning personal and family safety and security, to obtain a free copy of our DVD "Protecting Children from Predators," to find out the identity and location of sex offenders in your community, and to learn how to get our new and free iPhone and iPod and Blackberry application, "Silent Bodyguard," that with just one-button allows you to send both a personal distress message and transmits your exact GPS coordinates every 60 seconds, go to www.LiveSecure.org.