FBI Backlog of DNA Cases Mounting

DNA code analysisBy Allan Lengel

WASHINGTON — The FBI has a backlog of 3,211 forensic DNA cases, which would take two years to eliminate if there was no new staff or new cases, according to a report by the Justice Department’s Inspector General.

“The forensic DNA case backlog at the FBI Laboratory can have significant effects,” the report said. “Backlogs may delay legal proceedings that are waiting on the results of DNA analysis.

“Backlogs can also prevent the timely capture of criminals, prolong the incarceration of innocent people who could be exonerated by DNA evidence, and adversely affect families of missing persons waiting for positive identification of remains.”

The report said the FBI was in the process of adding 17 additional forensic examiners “however, hiring and training the new personnel could take significant time (12-18 months for training personnel new to DNA examination) and therefore would not have a significant impact on the current backlog for almost two years,” the report said.

The report also said the FBI had a backlog of more than 2,700 Nuclear DNA cases and almost 500 Mitochondrial DNA cases.

“We found that the backlog of cases in the Nuclear DNA Unit has grown by almost 40 percent (757 cases) from the first quarter of FY 2009 through the second quarter of FY 2010,” the report said. ” Additionally, in the Mitochondrial DNA Unit, the backlog has grown by almost 130 percent (276 cases) during the same time period.”

“Missing Persons cases composed the highest number of backlogged cases, with 1,241 cases or 39 percent of the forensic DNA case backlog as of April 2010.” the report said.

The FBI responded:

“We are pleased the Report acknowledges the FBI’s work on the offender backlog. The FBI has in seven months dramatically reduced the offender backlog from its December 2009 peak of 312,000 samples to a current backlog of approximately 102,000 samples. We are on track to eliminate the remaining backlog entirely by September of this year. The FBI shifted vital Laboratory resources from casework to address the massive growth of offender samples following legislative changes in 2001, 2004, and 2005.”

“Although resources have not kept pace with the casework demands, we have pursued other strategies to address this issue. We are making progress on the backlog: over the last five months, the backlog of nuclear DNA cases has dropped. The FBI Laboratory has made great strides toward eliminating the offender backlog and we intend to apply the same knowledge and experience to the successful elimination of the forensic DNA case backlog.

“Based upon a review of the Report, the FBI concurs with the five interim recommendations directed to the FBI. The FBI appreciates the professionalism exhibited by the OIG to complete this interim Report and we look forward to the continuation of this audit.

“Forensic DNA analysis has proven to be invaluable to the law enforcement community, and the victims of violent crimes and their families. The FBI Laboratory remains fully committed to the elimination of its DNA backlogs and will continue to strive to improve its timely support to the law enforcement and intelligence communities while maintaining the highest standards of quality.”

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