U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government, Department of Justice.

Report Examines Cold Case Investigative Practices and Outcomes

NCJ Number
Date Published
May 2012
2 pages
This study assesses current practices in cold-case investigations to determine which are most effective, while identifying the type of cases most likely to be solved.

Results identified three distinct types of cold-case investigations, each with different processes, benefits and costs. In the classic cold-case investigation, the detective reopens a case due to family or media inquiries or a procedure review of cases unsolved for a specified length of time. These cases are likely to be the most expensive and least successful. The second case type, which is based on availability of forensic tests due to advances in DNA technology, is relatively inexpensive, and federal funds are available for DNA testing. According to this report, the rate of success from indiscriminate DNA testing of large numbers of cases is likely below 50 percent. The third type of case, those opened due to a confession or a plea deal, is the most inexpensive and successful. This information can be used to guide agencies on resource allocation, agency organization and case prioritization for optimizing clearance rates.

Date Published: May 1, 2012