MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 27, 1999202/307-0703



WASHINGTON, D.C. -- At a meeting of the National Commission on the Future of DNA Evidence, the Justice Department today released two publications that will improve the justice system's use of DNA technology. One document will help law enforcement officers identify and collect DNA evidence at a crime scene and the other will assist the judicial system in applying DNA technologies to re-examine cases that already have been tried. These are the first two publications generated from the work of the Commission, which will continue to meet to discuss issues related to DNA technology and to produce further guidance for the field.

"The vigilant search for truth -- the apprehension and conviction of those who are guilty and the exoneration of those who are not -- is the hallmark of our justice system. DNA technology can dramatically advance this goal. The Commission's new reports will bolster the proper use of DNA in our judicial system, making our streets safer while protecting the innocent," said Attorney General Janet Reno.

DNA, or deoxyribonucleic acid, is the fundamental building block for an individual's entire genetic makeup. It is a powerful tool because each person's DNA is different except for that of identical twins. DNA testing has become the predominant technique for identifying perpetrators and eliminating suspects when biological tissues are left as evidence at a crime scene. Unlike fingerprints, DNA can be found on evidence that is decades old, which makes it possible to employ this technology to determine a perpetrator's identity or eliminate suspects reliably in cases where previous forensic testing had been inconclusive.

The Justice Department's National Institute of Justice (NIJ) established the National Commission on the Future of DNA Evidence in 1998, at the request of Attorney General Reno. The goal of the Commission is to make recommendations regarding the most effective use of DNA as a crime fighting tool and to foster its use throughout the entire criminal justice system. "The Commission has exercised tremendous leadership in studying the critical issues around justice-related applications of DNA technology," said NIJ Director Jeremy Travis. "This input has resulted in the creation of tools for the criminal justice community that balance the high degree of certainty associated with DNA testing with our justice system's focus on fairness and protecting the innocent."

What Every Law Enforcement Officer Should Know About DNA Evidence recognizes the critical role that law enforcement officers, as first responders, play in preserving the integrity of a crime scene. It provides information on what DNA is and how it can be used to solve crimes, and other basic information on DNA identification, preservation and collection. The brochure, which was developed at the recommendation of the Commission, is published by the NIJ.

Because of the importance of this matter, the NIJ has committed to making the brochure available to every law enforcement officer in the United States.

Postconviction DNA Testing: Recommendations for Handling Requests was developed to assist the judicial system in responding to requests from offenders who wish to use DNA testing to re-examine their convictions. The document provides assistance to prosecutors, defense attorneys, judges, victims' advocates and DNA laboratories in determining which situations warrant DNA testing or retesting and those in which the use of DNA technologies would be of no value in assessing guilt or innocence. The guidelines were developed by the Commission's Working Group on Postconviction Issues, comprised of prosecutors, defense attorneys, judges, scientists, academics and victims' advocates.

Both the brochure and guidelines are available by contacting the Justice Department's information clearinghouse, the National Criminal Justice Reference Service at 800/851-3420 or by visiting its site on the World Wide Web at Information about the Commission may be found on its site at NIJ, the Justice Department's primary research and evaluation arm, supports research, evaluation, and demonstration programs, the development of technology, and both national and international information dissemination. More information about NIJ and its programs is available at Information about other Office of Justice Programs (OJP) bureaus and program offices is available at Media should contact OJP's Office of Congressional and Public Affairs at 202/307-0703.

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For additional information contact Liz Pearson at 202/307-0703.

NIJ 99-187