House Judiciary Committee Adopts Schiff Amendments to Improve DNA Tools for Law Enforcement and Investigators and Eliminate DNA Backlogs

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Wednesday, June 11, 2008 Contact: Sean Oblack (202) 225-4176

House Judiciary Committee Adopts Schiff Amendments to Improve DNA Tools for Law Enforcement and Investigators and Eliminate DNA Backlogs

Washington, DC – Today, the House Judiciary Committee approved four amendments authored by Rep. Schiff which would 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. The amendments were added to the “Debbie Smith Reauthorization Act of 2008” (H.R. 5057). Most significantly, the Committee approved an amendment authored by Rep. Schiff that would provide states an incentive to collect DNA profiles of everyone arrested for murder or sex crimes. 

“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 felons.  We can use this technology far more successfully to track down murderers and rapists.”

His first amendment would create an incentive program for states to collect DNA profiles of all people arrested for murder and 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 was required for 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 that passed 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 approved was is 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 would call 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 accordingly.

Rep. Schiff’s last amendment that passed 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.