August 10, 2010

Thousands Of DNA Cases Backlogged At FBI Lab

The Federal Bureau of Investigation's laboratory has more than 3200 forensic DNA cases in its backlog, according to a report released Monday by the U.S. Justice Department's Office of the Inspector General (OIG).

"Our review determined that as of March 2010, the FBI Laboratory had a backlog of 3,211 forensic DNA cases. Given the FBI Laboratory's current rate of work, no new staff, and without any new cases, it would take the FBI Laboratory about 2 years to eliminate its existing forensic DNA case backlog," read the report.

The backlogged cases involve analysis of DNA evidence collected from crime scenes and victims, typically from items such as clothing, drinking glasses and envelopes. Having a large backlog of such cases can possibly prevent the timely arrest of suspects, extend the incarceration of innocent people who could be exonerated by DNA evidence, and exacerbate the hardship of loved ones of missing persons awaiting positive identification of remains.
The backlog has grown sharply over the past year, which can sometimes delay legal proceedings that must await DNA analysis results, the department's OIG report said.

Of the 3200 cases in the FBI's backlog, more than 2,700 are in the lab unit that analyzes biological fluid stains such as blood and semen, said the report.  Approximately 500 cases are in the unit that examines evidence such as bones, hair and teeth.

Depending on the type of evidence involved, the FBI's lab analysis can take between 150 days to more than 600 days to complete, the report said.

The OIG cited a variety of measures that the FBI has enacted to shrink its laboratory backlog and minimize bottlenecks. 

For instance, the federal law enforcement agency is in the process of hiring an additional 17 forensic examiners.  However, it could take as long as a year and a half before the new staff is fully operational.

The FBI's case backlog has been a problem for years, as the agency works toward developing an electronic evidence tracking system, the report said.

The FBI released a formal response to the OIG's report on Monday.

"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," the agency said in a statement.

"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," read the statement.

"Based upon a review of the Report, the FBI concurs with the five interim recommendations directed to the FBI."

The agency "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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