07.14.08

House Approves Schiff Measures to Eliminate DNA Backlog and Solve Crimes

Official Seal of the US House of Representatives

Monday, July 14, 2008 Contact: Sean Oblack (202) 225-4176

House Approves Schiff Measures to Eliminate DNA Backlog and Solve Crimes

Washington, DC – In light of recent developments in the JonBenet Ramsey murder case highlighting the effectiveness of DNA technology, the House today passed “The Debbie Smith Reauthorization Act of 2008” (H.R. 5057).  The bill included four amendments authored by Rep. Schiff that will improve DNA tools to help catch rapists, murderers and other violent criminals and help reduce the backlog of DNA samples waiting to be screened by federal and state investigators.  Most significantly, the bill includes an amendment authored by Rep. Schiff that would provide states with an incentive to collect DNA profiles from those arrested for murder or felony sex crimes. The bill will now be sent to the Senate for its approval before it is sent to the President to be signed into law. 

“DNA matching technology is one on the greatest advancements in forensic science since the fingerprint,” said Schiff.  “DNA matching technology has the potential to be one of the most effective tools in catching violent criminals.  We can use this technology far more successfully to track down murderers and rapists.  Clearing the backlog of DNA samples and collecting more data from violent felons will go a long way towards finally solving hundreds or thousands of cold case murders and sexual assaults.”

Rep. Schiff’s first amendment included in the House Judiciary Committee passed bill would create an incentive program for states to collect DNA profiles from those arrested for murder and serious sex crimes. Many studies have indicated that violent crimes could be significantly reduced if DNA profiles were collected from individuals arrested for felonies. A 2005 Chicago study examining the criminal activities of only 8 individuals found that 60 violent crimes could have been prevented, including 53 murders and rapes, if DNA samples were submitted for all felony arrests.

Currently twelve states collect such samples, such as California. These states are greatly increasing the power of the National DNA network, while states with far narrower collection regimes are making the federal database less efficient. Rep. Schiff’s amendment would reward those states that enact an enhanced collection process by making them eligible for an increase in federal law enforcement funds.

The second amendment included in the bill would call for the issuance of new standards governing the use of the federal DNA index in order to provide for the expedited uploading of DNA profiles by State and local forensic laboratories.  The amendment would also direct an examination of the feasibility of other measures that would greatly expedite analysis and uploading of DNA profiles, as well as backlog reduction.

Rep. Schiff’s next amendment that was part of the bill was in response to a disturbing report that found that many DNA samples from crime scenes that matched convicted criminals were not being pursued by law enforcement and prosecutors in a timely fashion, leading to additional crimes before a criminal was apprehended. Rep. Schiff’s amendment calls for the Department of Justice’s Inspector General to investigate and report on how many DNA database matches are followed up on by law enforcement and how many are ultimately brought to the attention of prosecutors.

This report will determine the reasons why matches were not pursued accordingly and determine the resulting impact on the criminal justice system – namely, whether other crimes were committed that could have been prevented if the matches were pursued more aggressively.

Rep. Schiff’s last amendment will help states which develop permanent funding sources to eliminate DNA backlogs.  It authorizes the Attorney General to provide federal matching funds to states that have implemented permanent funding mechanisms that generate funds dedicated to analyzing DNA samples for law enforcement purposes.