THE HONORABLE DEBORAH J. DANIELS
ASSISTANT ATTORNEY GENERAL
OFFICE OF JUSTICE PROGRAMS
AMERICAN PROSECUTORS RESEARCH INSTITUTE'S
DNA FORENSICS PROGRAM
DNA: JUSTICE SPEAKS
THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 20, 2003
Good morning! I am pleased to have the opportunity to welcome you to this important conference.
I want to commend APRI for recognizing the critical importance of DNA evidence in solving criminal cases, identifying the guilty, exonerating the innocent, and protecting the public. I also want to thank all of you for being here and for your commitment to advancing justice through the expanded use of DNA evidence. And I want to applaud APRI and all of you for taking this multi-disciplinary approach to promoting the use of DNA evidence.
Ensuring justice through better use of DNA evidence will involve all of us, working together. Police and medical personnel must recognize when to obtain DNA evidence in cases and how to collect and preserve it. Prosecutors must know how to effectively present DNA evidence in court. And judges must have a solid background in the issues involved in DNA evidence in order to make sound judgments about admissibility and the weight to be given the evidence.
Witness the evidentiary debate in recent days, in the Scott Peterson case, over whether the judge should even admit mitochondrial DNA evidence relating to a strand of hair found on pliers on Scott Peterson's boat. That evidence is critical to the prosecution; and if the judge had not been sufficiently educated on the science, the evidence might not have been deemed admissible.
This Administration believes that better use of DNA evidence holds tremendous potential for increasing our capacity to solve crimes. We've seen how DNA evidence can help solve cases years, or even decades, after a crime has been committed.
Just a few weeks ago, the suspect in the notorious Green River murders case pled guilty to killing 48 women and dumping their bodies in or near the Green River. The break in this 20-year-old case came when police used modern technology to test DNA evidence that had been gathered in the early 1980s from clothing worn by three of the victims. That evidence was matched to DNA in the saliva of a man who had long been one of the top suspects in the case -- Gary Leon Ridgway.
Unfortunately, the power of DNA technology to solve cases such as this has been limited due to inadequate laboratory capacity, outdated information systems, overwhelming caseloads, and a lack of training.
As a result, there are hundreds of thousands of DNA samples awaiting analysis in crime labs across the country, thousands of investigators waiting for crucial information to help solve crimes, countless victims awaiting resolution to their cases, and countless offenders who are not being held accountable for their crimes.
To address these problems, this spring, President Bush launched an unprecedented federal initiative to advance the cause of justice through the use of DNA technology. The President has proposed spending a total of more than $1 billion over the next 5 years in federal support for this effort, and we have asked Congress for the first installment of $232 million in our 2004 budget request.
Through the President's DNA initiative, if the Congress approves the funding we have requested, we'll provide significant resources to help law enforcement and other criminal justice practitioners more effectively collect, use, and analyze DNA evidence to solve cases.
This fiscal year, for example, we hope to provide almost $93 million to help eliminate the substantial backlog of DNA case samples for the most serious violent offenses, as well as the backlog of convicted offender samples that have not yet been tested.
We want to use another $60 million this fiscal year to enhance the ability of crime labs to analyze DNA evidence. Currently, there are 130 public crime labs in the U.S. that are capable of DNA analysis. But fewer than 10 percent have the automated facilities needed to conduct efficient and accurate tests. Our funds will help these labs employ technology -- such as bar-coding, robotics, and advanced computer support -- to analyze more samples and to help solve more crimes.
We'll also use about $10 million to expand the capacity of CODIS -- the national DNA database. This effort will improve state and local law enforcement's access to the system and reduce search time from hours to microseconds. We've already doubled the number of crime scene samples matched to convicted offender samples in CODIS -- from 2,200 in 2001 to almost 5,000 last year.
As the Attorney General said in announcing these dramatic results, "This translates into thousands of crimes solved, rapists and murderers caught, and fewer victims." Under the President's initiative, we'll significantly expand the capacity of CODIS from its current 1.7 million DNA profiles to 50 million.
Another aspect of the DNA initiative is to stimulate research and development on DNA testing. For example, we're working to develop faster, less expensive methods of conducting DNA tests that will speed the testing of samples in forensic labs across the country. Our National Institute of Justice has developed a prototype microchip that will permit scientists to analyze 8 DNA samples simultaneously in under 20 minutes.
In the not-too-distant future, police may be able to use a hand-held device that could test a suspect's DNA while he is being interviewed. If we get the appropriation we've requested for 2004, we'll spend almost $25 million in the coming year to support further research and development of DNA technology.
The President's DNA initiative also will support training to help law enforcement and other criminal justice professionals better understand the full potential of DNA testing to solve cases. The importance of this training was illustrated earlier this year when an alert police officer in Prince George's County, Maryland, used DNA evidence to identify a suspect wanted in a string of sexual assaults.
The officer stopped and questioned a man who matched a description of the rapist. After the suspect left, the officer bent down to pick up a napkin the man had used to blow his nose. DNA testing matched the evidence on the napkin to the DNA evidence recovered from the rape victims. The man was arrested, and last month pleaded guilty to three counts of first-degree rape.
In another case in Texas, an investigator solved the rape of a local college student by requesting DNA testing on the phone cord used to choke the woman. The perpetrator had worn gloves, and the cord bore no fingerprints. However, DNA testing revealed saliva on the phone cord. Evidently, the rapist had held the cord in his mouth while subduing the victim. The DNA evidence from the cord solved not only that case, but also a similar sexual assault in another city.
Without these officers' knowledge of the crime-solving possibilities of DNA evidence, these cases might never have been solved, the perpetrators might still be free, and neighborhood residents might still be living in fear.
We've allocated $17.5 million in 2004 to support training for law enforcement and other criminal justice practitioners in the collection and use of DNA evidence. Our goal is to ensure that police officers and medical personnel collect evidence properly, that prosecutors introduce and use DNA evidence successfully in court, and that judges rule correctly on its admissibility during trials.
I appreciate NDAA's strong support for the President's DNA Initiative. And I'm encouraged to see that the Congress also recognizes the critical importance of DNA evidence to criminal justice in the 21st Century. As you may know, legislation is pending in the Congress that would statutorily authorize many of the provisions of the President's DNA initiative. We're also anxiously awaiting passage of our Fiscal Year 2004 appropriation, so that we know what funding will actually be available this fiscal year to support our DNA efforts.
Meanwhile, we're moving ahead with a number of related initiatives. For example, we're working to expand the use of DNA to solve cases involving unidentified human remains.
In September, we brought together the first-ever working group of experts in the field to look at ways to close the gap between missing persons reports and the discovery of unidentified bodies.
As any of you know who have worked with the families of missing persons, family members frequently say that simply not knowing what happened to their loved one -- whether he or she is alive or dead -- is the most difficult aspect of their ordeal. Unfortunately, there's sometimes a disconnect between law enforcement and medical examiners in these cases.
We're looking at the intersection of the efforts of the MEs with homicide investigators to avoid the possibility of the two disciplines working at cross-purposes, potentially damaging the case and increasing the pain suffered by the victim's family.
As part of this effort, we're working with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and Bode Laboratories to use DNA to identify the bodies of missing children. For some years, we've provided significant funding to the National Center, which does tremendous work in seeking to return missing children to their families.
Under this new initiative, Bode Labs has donated 600 DNA test kits that NCMEC is using to help requesting jurisdictions identify unidentified bodies of children. In July, this effort had its first successful identification.
The Kentucky Medical Examiner's Office contacted NCMEC's Special Case Unit for assistance in identifying the remains of an unknown male estimated to be between the ages of 17 and 20. The unidentified body had been found at the bottom of an abandoned well. And the ME estimated that the body had been in the well for between 5 and 10 years.
Locally examined records revealed that the body might be that of an 18-year-old man who'd been missing for more than six years. DNA samples from the body were matched with samples from the mother of the missing man and confirmed the identification. Police now have a suspect in this case and are proceeding with a homicide investigation. And we hope that our efforts will result in more successful identifications like this.
There's one final component of the DNA initiative I want to mention. And it's an important one. In order to make full use of the power of DNA technology, DNA samples should be collected from all convicted felons and added to the national DNA database.
Currently, only 30 states require DNA samples from all convicted felons. These states have much higher "hit rates" -- matches of DNA evidence to profiles of convicted offenders in DNA databases -- than other states that have more limited requirements.
For example, Virginia, which has been collecting DNA from all convicted felons since 1990, has a convicted offender database of more than 189,000 DNA profiles. As a result, they averaged 37 hits per month in 2002. Of the 1,070 hits Virginia had as of last March, approximately 82 percent would have been missed if its database were limited to only violent offenders, instead of all convicted felons.
Florida has had a similar experience. The fact is, many of the offenders matched with violent crime scene evidence are found to have only a burglary conviction on their record. So we need to make sure that all those convicted of felonies are tested.
If your state isn't currently collecting such data, I encourage you to work with your state legislators to pass legislation to expand your state's DNA sample collection to include all convicted felons. And we're working with Members of Congress to craft legislation that will enable us to include in the federal CODIS database all DNA samples that have been properly collected under the laws of all the states.
I'm looking forward to learning of your work at this conference, and what more you can tell us about successful approaches to interagency communication and information-sharing that will enhance the use of DNA evidence to solve crimes and ensure justice for both offenders and their victims.
Thank you again for being here. The work you are doing over these three days -- and the renewed dedication you will take home when you leave here -- will significantly improve law enforcement's capacity to solve criminal cases, identify the guilty, exonerate the innocent, and protect the public.
You represent the future of law enforcement in this country, and we are all grateful to you for the contribution you are making to public safety, everywhere in America. Thank you very much.