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Untested Evidence: Not Just a Crime Lab Issue

NCJ Number
NIJ Journal Issue: 266 Dated: June 2010 Pages: 28-30
Date Published
June 2010
3 pages
Publication Series
This article reports on the findings of a survey that examined the prevalence and causes of evidence being stored in police property rooms that has not been sent to a forensic lab for analysis.
The recent survey of approximately 2,000 police departments, found that forensic evidence existed but had not been sent to a lab for analysis in 14 percent of open homicide cases, 18 percent of open rape cases, and 23 percent of open property crime cases. Reasons why stored evidence collected from a crime scene would not go to a lab for analysis include the charges against an alleged perpetrator being dropped or a suspect pleading guilty to the crime. In rape cases, evidence may not be sent to a lab for analysis if consent, but not identity, is the contested issue. In addition, some evidence is not sent to a lab because it would not help identify a perpetrator or solve the crime. The survey findings also suggest that some law enforcement agencies may not fully understand the potential value of forensic evidence in developing new leads in a criminal investigation. Another troubling finding is that police may not send evidence to the lab because of a mindset in some departments that forensic evidence only helps in prosecuting a named suspect, but not in developing new investigatory leads. Investigators must be made aware that evidence can contain DNA that might identify an unknown suspect through the Combined DNA Index System (CODIS). Based on survey data, researchers recommend standardizing evidence retention policies; training officers in the benefits and use of forensic evidence; developing and improving computerized systems for tracking forensic evidence; improving storage capacity for analyzed and unanalyzed forensic evidence; and developing a system-wide approach for improving coordination among police, forensic labs, and prosecutor's offices.

Date Published: June 1, 2010