MONDAY, MAY 3, 1999202/307-0703


ALBUQUERQUE, NM - A new process that will allow on-scene DNA screening by law enforcement to determine who was at a crime scene was unveiled today in Albuquerque by the National Institute of Justice (NIJ), the Justice Department's research arm.

The DNA chip is currently being used to identify people at risk for such diseases as breast cancer and cystic fibrosis. NIJ determined the same device has criminal justice applications that will enable law enforcement to use DNA information at the scene of the crime, rather than wait weeks for analysis in a distant lab.

"This chip can be a powerful crime fighting tool because of its speed of analysis, the vast amount of important DNA evidence it can contain and its economy," said NIJ Director Jeremy Travis. "The type of crime-fighting technology that we once considered to be science fiction, like the DNA chip, will be tools that help us create a safer nation in the 21st Century."

The "Forensic DNA Chip," which costs between $10 and $15, can be brought to a crime scene. The on-scene evidence would be inserted into one end and then the chip placed in a small computer mounted within a police patrol vehicle. The computer will uplink that information to a national criminal justice database and search the DNA profile identified on the chip. The chip will be available to law enforcement in two years.

NIJ also announced its "5 year DNA Research and Development Plan." The mission of the program is to encourage and support any area of research and/or development that can enhance or increase the capacity, capability, applicability or reliability of DNA for criminal justice applications.

NIJ, as early as 1989, was awarding grants to researchers applying the then-radical notion that DNA could be used to identify the source of biological evidence from crime scenes.

In 1996, NIJ published, "Convicted by Juries, Exonerated by Science: Case Studies in the Use of DNA Evidence to Establish Innocence After Trial." As that study showed, persons convicted of murder and rape before DNA profiling became available have sought to have the evidence in their cases reevaluated using this new technology. In some cases, DNA test results have exonerated those convicted of the offenses and resulted in their release from prison.

After reading the report, Attorney General Janet Reno directed NIJ to establish and administer a DNA Commission with the mission of maximizing the value of forensic DNA evidence in the criminal justice system. The purpose of the National Commission on the Future of DNA Evidence is to provide the Attorney General with recommendations on the use of current and future DNA methods, applications and technologies in the operation of the criminal justice system, from the crime scene to the courtroom. Over the course of its charter, the Commission will review critical policy issues, such as privacy, regarding DNA evidence and provide recommended courses of action to improve its use as a tool of investigation and adjudication in criminal cases.

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