After defining what constitutes a DNA backlog, this article discusses why DNA backlogs persist, why the demand for DNA testing is increasing, and what is being done to address the DNA backlog.
There is no industry-wide definition of a DNA backlog. The U.S. Justice Department's National Institute of Justice (NIJ) defines a DNA backlogged case as one that has not been tested 30 days after it was submitted to the laboratory. Any discussion of and research on DNA backlogs should consider the varying definitions of the term, with attention to length of time from receipt of a specimen to completion of the DNA testing, as well as the type of backlog being referenced. There are two types of backlogs: casework backlogs and convicted offender/arrestee DNA backlogs. Casework backlogs are composed of forensic evidence collected from crime scenes, victims, and suspects in criminal cases. Convicted offender and arrestee DNA backlogs involve DNA samples taken from convicted offenders and arrestees pursuant to Federal and State laws. The latter type of DNA samples are significantly easier and faster to analyze than casework samples because they are collected on identical media (usually a paper product). Although crime laboratories have increased their capacity to process DNA samples, they are not able to eliminate their backlogs because the demand continues to exceed the increases in capacity. The demand for DNA testing is increasing because of increased recognition of its value in determining guilt or innocence and the expanded number of reasons for collecting and testing DNA samples from crime scenes and individuals. Although laboratory capacity for processing DNA samples has increased, primarily through Federal funding, this effort has not kept pace with the increased demand for DNA testing. Until laboratories' capacity to conduct DNA testing regularly matches increases in demand, DNA backlogs will persist. 2 figures and 3 resources