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Understanding the Use and Efficacy of Moderate Stringency DNA Searches

Award Information

Award #
Funding Category
Awardee County
Los Angeles
Congressional District
Funding First Awarded
Total funding (to date)

Description of original award (Fiscal Year 2014, $494,447)

In theory, moderate stringency forensic DNA searching (including familial searching) could be an enormously productive tool to identify and prosecute criminals in cases in which conventional DNA searching is unsuccessful. Critics, however, decry it as genetic surveillance, note the racially disparate effects it can have and note that it can subject innocent suspects to police suspicion. Yet, despite anecdotal reports of its efficacy, we know relatively little about moderate stringency DNA use, policies, legal challenges and
cost-effectiveness in the United States.
To guide policymakers, and improve practice in this area, RAND proposes conducting four related studies. First, they will conduct a thorough literature review of existing moderate stringency DNA laws, regulations and policies, as well as case law on challenges to its use. Second, they will conduct a survey of both SDIS and LDIS administrators to collect
information on laws, regulations, and policies as well as informal practices. Third, thy will use six states with different moderate stringency DNA policies as case studies to analyze more thoroughly the history and effects of moderate stringency DNA policies. In those states, they will collect additional metadata from SDIS and LDIS labs to be able to better
measure the effect of DNA policies, conduct qualitative interviews and collect more
detailed information on the costs associated with familial and moderate stringency DNA testing. Finally, they will conduct qualitative interviews with stakeholders in England, a jurisdiction which has used moderate stringency DNA searches for a longer period of time.
RAND is partnering with Dr. Carl Matthies of the Vera Institute, a former forensic scientist,and Dr. Emma Disley of RAND Europe, based in Cambridge, England.
We will publish and archive a comprehensive database of laws, regulations, policies, caselaw and practices on moderate stringency searches. They also plan to publish a working paper, a journal article, an NIJ report, and a practitioner-friendly research brief summarizing our findings. RAND anticipates this research will provide important guidance to both criminal justice researchers and policymakers who are confronting both the promise and the risks of this technology.


Date Created: September 4, 2014