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DNA Evidence Backlogs: Convicted Offender and Arrestee Samples

Date Published
March 26, 2013

Describing the Convicted Offender and Arrestee Sample Backlog

The term "backlog" usually is discussed in terms of cases waiting to be analyzed in crime laboratories. But there is also a backlog of samples from convicted offenders and arrestees waiting to be analyzed and uploaded to the FBI's Combined DNA Index System (CODIS).

DNA profiles from convicted offenders and arrestees are uploaded into CODIS so that DNA analysts can compare the DNA gathered from crime scenes against DNA profiles in CODIS. If a match is found, DNA analysts can provide investigators with a lead as to the potential perpetrator of an unsolved crime. Delays in uploading profiles into CODIS could present an opportunity for an offender whose profile is in the system to commit other crimes.

DNA samples taken from convicted offenders and arrestees pursuant to federal and state laws are significantly easier and faster to analyze than casework samples because they are collected on identical media (usually a paper product). The standardized collection methods in each state allow the laboratory to use automated analysis of many samples at once. Robotic platforms, for example, can process scores of these samples and the appropriate controls at the same time, generally in a 96-sample format. In addition, unlike with forensic casework samples, the laboratory analyst does not need to "find" the DNA amidst the evidence.

Counting the Convicted Offender and Arrestee Sample Backlog

The federal government and all 50 states have laws requiring the collection of DNA samples from individuals convicted of certain crimes. In addition, the federal government and some states have laws concerning the collection of DNA from individuals arrested for certain crimes.

The backlog of offender samples has increased steadily from 2007 through 2009 because demand — the number of new offender sample submitted — continues to outpace capacity — the ability of laboratories to analyze those samples.

New offender samples (convicted offender and arrestee samples combined) collected and submitted increased from roughly 1 million samples in 2007, to approximately 1.3 million samples in 2008, to about 1.7 million samples in 2009. This increase is a direct reflection of new state statutes increasing the number of offenses that qualify for collection as well as the trend of collecting samples from arrestees.

Since capacity has been relatively stable at approximately 1 million samples per year in 2008 and 2009, the yearend backlog of offender samples has increased steadily, from 657,166 in 2007, to 793,852 in 2008, to 952,393 in 2009.

In late 2006 and early 2007, NIJ expanded the funding available for offender backlog reduction by including funding for arrestee samples. Major contracts for outsourcing of arrestee samples and backlogged convicted offender samples were made in 2006 and 2007, which helped clear backlogs and increase the number of samples completed. Requests for federal assistance for testing offender samples have decreased from the peak requests in 2006 and 2007.

Addressing the Convicted Offender and Arrestee Sample Backlog

NIJ's program to reduce the backlog of DNA from convicted offenders and arrestees allows laboratories to use grant funds to either process samples in their own facilities or outsource the work to private laboratories. Between 2005 and 2010, NIJ made more than $58 million available to reduce the backlog of samples of convicted offenders and arrestees. Federal funding has helped analysts test more than 1.8 million convicted offender and arrestee samples since 2005. The result has been more than 18,000 CODIS hits.

Read the special report Making Sense of DNA Backlogs, 2010 — Myths vs. Reality (pdf, 20 pages).

Date Created: March 26, 2013