DNA and the National Institute of Justice (Page 3/3)

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The evidence, however, does not bear this out. Judge Shelton and several other researchers conducted a survey of 1,027 randomly summoned jurors in Ann Arbor, Michigan, asking them about their television viewing habits as well as their expectations for the presentation of certain types of evidence in trials for different levels of offenses, anywhere from theft up to murder.

Judge Shelton and his team’s findings suggested that, to quote his article, “the jurors’ expectations were not just blanket expectations for scientific evidence. Rather, expectations for particular types of scientific evidence seemed to be rational based on the type of case. For example, a higher percentage of respondents expected to see DNA evidence in the more serious violent offenses, such as murder or attempted murder (46 percent) and rape (73 percent), than in other types of crimes.”

This is, however, an important issue and something that the field should continue to examine. If you’re interested in learning more about the alleged “CSI effect” and Judge Shelton’s study, I recommend that you read the NIJ Journal article I mentioned earlier, which can be found at http://www.nij.gov/nij/journals/259/csi-effect.htm.

At the COPS Office, we are talking a lot these days about policing in a new economy and the impact of the economy on state and local law enforcement. Do you know how the current climate has been impacting crime labs?

Like states and cities all across the country, crime labs are being impacted by the current economic climate and budget restrictions. Being able to pay for the technology and staff required to test DNA evidence is a challenge for cash-strapped jurisdictions in today’s economy.

Fortunately, NIJ is able to provide funds that Congress has appropriated to support building capacity for DNA analysis in labs that need it. With these funds, labs can hire analysts and purchase equipment to increase the throughput of their DNA testing. In fiscal year 2011, NIJ increased the amount of awards from $69.1 million in FY 2010 to $88.7 million in FY 2011. These figures include both the DNA Backlog and Convicted Offender funds.

What would you want the general public to know about DNA evidence, its limitations, and the management of expectations for use of DNA evidence?

I would want people to know that you can’t solve cases overnight, and that the testing of DNA evidence requires time, money, and expertise. Cases are continually coming in to the lab as DNA evidence is being used more and more for different kinds of crimes. As technology advances, we’re hoping we can come up with methods that are faster and more sensitive, to get more cases out the door more quickly. But until that time, we’re going to have backlogs until we can come up with more people to work on cases, or technology changes and allows analysis to be conducted more quickly. Once cases are processed faster than they come in to the lab, the backlog will go down.

The fundamental problem is that the demand for DNA testing services is growing faster than the supply or capacity to work them. The good news is that capacity has risen to keep pace with demand, but the bad news is that until the capacity exceeds the demand, backlogs will continue to occur.

 -Kristina Rose,
Deputy Director
National Institute of Justice
LaTanya Owens,
Grant Program Specialist
The COPS Office

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