WELCOMING REMARKS OF
THE HONORABLE DEBORAH J. DANIELS
ASSISTANT ATTORNEY GENERAL
OFFICE OF JUSTICE PROGRAMS
SUMMIT ON DNA EVIDENCE: ENHANCING LAW ENFORCEMENT’S
IMPACT FROM CRIME SCENE TO COURTROOM AND BEYOND
MONDAY, APRIL 7, 2003
Thank you, Chief Estey, and good morning, everyone. I’m delighted to join in welcoming you here and to have the opportunity - through this Summit - to build on the strong and extremely productive partnership that has flourished over the past several years between IACP and the Office of Justice Programs.
This is the 10th national summit that we’ve co-sponsored with the IACP to look at issues of critical importance to the law enforcement community and the safety of this nation. We started in 1994 by discussing violent crime in the United States, following up a year later with a focus on murder. Over the next several years, we examined a host of other critical issues, including youth violence, family violence, hate crime, and crimes against children.
All of these summits produced important guidance for the Justice Department and the criminal justice field to enhance our ability to address these crimes and to assist crime victims.
Over these next two days, we’ll focus on another issue of critical importance to the safety of our nation - the use and management of DNA evidence. And I am confident that our work here will, again, lead to the development of important policy initiatives to advance our use of DNA evidence, and to enhance law enforcement’s impact from the crime scene to the courtroom and beyond.
Because of the tremendous potential DNA evidence has for solving crimes, this Administration has launched an unprecedented initiative to advance the cause of justice through the use of DNA technology. I believe that this effort will prove to be one of the most significant advancements in criminal justice over the last several decades.
The President has proposed $232.6 million in federal funding next fiscal year to support his DNA initiative, and has called for continuing this level for 5 years - a total of over $1 billion in federal support. We’ll provide funding, training, and technical assistance to help law enforcement and other criminal justice practitioners more effectively collect, use, and analyze DNA evidence to solve cases.
Next year, for example, we’ll provide almost $93 million to help eliminate the substantial backlog of DNA samples for the most serious violent offenses, as well as the backlog of convicted offender samples that have not yet been tested. Our National Institute of Justice estimates that there are currently 350,000 samples in rape and homicide cases, alone, awaiting analysis. And there are hundreds of thousands of convicted offenders whose samples have not yet been tested and entered into the DNA database.
This justice delayed is truly justice denied for the victims in these untested cases. I recently met two brave survivors of sexual assault who became champions of DNA testing after their attackers were finally identified through a DNA match.
Kellie Greene waited more than three years before the DNA evidence in her case was analyzed and matched with an offender who was, by that time, serving a 25-year sentence for beating and raping another woman. This prior rape had occurred just six weeks before his assault on Kellie. Had we, at that time, been where we need to be with regard to our ability promptly to identify and apprehend vicious predators such as Kellie’s rapist, she might never have been victimized in the first place.
And Debbie Smith waited six years before DNA testing identified her attacker. Debbie learned at that point that her assailant had gone to jail only months after raping her. But because of a backlog in Virginia’s DNA database, she waited 6 years to hear that he was already behind bars. This is no criticism of Virginia’s efforts - in fact, that state is a leader in the use of DNA technology. But Virginia, too, is a victim - of an overwhelming number of samples awaiting testing.
Debbie Smith has described her feelings on learning that her attacker was in jail: "Finally," she said, "I could quit looking over my shoulder. . . . Within myself, the healing had begun and peace had come at last." She later testified against her assailant, who is now serving two life sentences plus 25 years, with no chance of parole.
Under the President’s DNA initiative, it is our firm intention to eliminate the current backlogs of DNA samples for the most serious violent offenses and for convicted offenders within 5 years, and provide all these victims the justice they deserve.
And I promise you that these funds, in addition to the backlog reduction funds appropriated in 2002 and 2003, will be out the door promptly. We are reviewing the factors that have caused delays in the dissemination of prior year funding, and I promise you that we will remedy this problem immediately and effectively.
We’ll use another $60 million next year to enhance the ability of crime labs to analyze DNA evidence. Currently, there are more than 130 public crime labs 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, robots, 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 access to the system and reduce search time from hours to microseconds.
In just one year, as the result of prior efforts to improve the system, the number of crime scene samples matched to convicted offender samples in CODIS more than doubled - from 2,200 in 2001 to almost 5,000 last year.
As the Attorney General said in announcing these results, "This translates into thousands of crimes solved, rapists and murderers caught, and fewer victims." Under our current initiative, we’ll significantly expand the capacity of CODIS from its current 1.7 million DNA profiles to 50 million.
Another component of our 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 further enhance the capacity of forensic labs across the country to test DNA and enter the data into CODIS. Our National Institute of Justice has developed a prototype microchip that will permit scientists to analyze 8 DNA samples simultaneously in under 20 minutes. We’ll spend almost $25 million next year to support DNA research and development.
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. This potential was demonstrated just last week, 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 charged with first-degree rape, first-degree assault, burglary, and various handgun violations. And the residents in the neighborhood where the rapes occurred breathed a sigh of relief.
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 next year to support training for law enforcement and other criminal justice practitioners in the collection and use of DNA evidence.
In addition to identifying, arresting, and convicting the guilty, our DNA initiative also will provide greater access to DNA technology to those who may have been wrongly accused or convicted. We’ll provide grants to assist states in providing post-conviction testing, and we’ll work with the Congress to develop legislation that authorizes appropriate post-conviction DNA testing for federal inmates.
We also will provide education and outreach to law enforcement officers, medical examiners, coroners, and victims’ families on the use of DNA to identify missing persons. As we saw in the aftermath of the September 11th terrorist attacks on America, families suffer terrible anguish when the remains of a missing person are not identified.
And, as our friends and partners at the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children tell us, parents of missing children often tell the Center that the worst part of that horrible experience is simply not knowing what has happened to their child -- whether the child is alive or dead. Our initiative will help provide closure for the families of missing persons by helping to increase the use of DNA analysis in these cases.
In addition to these efforts under the President’s DNA intiative, the Justice Department also is working to develop legislation to improve the criminal justice system’s use of DNA to solve crimes.
Currently, all 50 states and the federal government require that DNA samples be collected from certain offenders. However, only 23 states currently require that DNA samples be collected from all convicted felons.
Not surprisingly, these 23 states have many more DNA matches and solve many more crimes than states that conduct more limited sampling.
For example, Virginia has been collecting DNA from all felons since 1990, and has a convicted offender database with over 189,000 DNA profiles. By routinely testing and matching DNA samples from felony offenders, Virginia officials have been able to solve 90 homicides and 196 non-homicide sexual assaults. But they estimate that, if their database contained samples only from violent offenders, they would have missed 82 percent of the total 1,070 matches found so far.
Florida has also broadened its convicted offender sample collection, and has found that a full 45% of the State’s DNA matches in homicide and sexual assault cases involved offenders whose DNA was collected not as the result of conviction of a violent crime, but because of a prior burglary conviction.
This Administration will encourage states to pass legislation to expand their DNA collection to include all convicted offenders. 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. That way, if your state expands its laws to permit you to collect samples from a larger population, you can be sure those samples will be entered into CODIS to enable potential matches with crime scene evidence from throughout the country. So, if a state collects samples from juveniles, or from arrestees, those samples, under the proposed legislation, would be entered into CODIS.
This raises an issue I hope you will consider in the course of this Summit. While I am firmly in the camp of those who believe that DNA is to the 21st Century what fingerprinting was to the 20th, I also understand the legitimate concerns of citizens who fear the use of DNA samples for more than identification purposes. I encourage you to examine these privacy issues and consider ways to assure the public that law enforcement will strictly limit, to identification purposes only, the use of DNA samples taken in the criminal justice context. This will be particularly important as some states move toward collection of DNA from arrestees, who have not been convicted of any crime, and are presumed innocent.
As we have pointed out publicly, the legislation which created CODIS makes it a felony offense to release samples or use them for other purposes. This is critical; but those states which have not yet adopted similar legislation need to consider doing so; and the handling of samples must be carefully controlled.
That said, the widespread use of DNA evidence is the future of law enforcement in this country. As the Attorney General said in announcing the programmatic and legislative recommendations that comprise the President’s DNA initiative, "Clearly, DNA has the power to convict the guilty and protect the innocent in a way that will improve dramatically the efficacy of the criminal justice system."
I want to take this opportunity, in front of this august group, to thank and congratulate Sarah Hart, who has been the driving force over the past year in developing and advocating for this major initiative. Her passion and dedication, and, as a former prosecutor, her full comprehension of the incredible potential of DNA for law enforcement, have been largely responsible for the comprehensive product I’ve described - as well as for the strong commitment of the President of the United States to this 5-year, $1 billion effort. We all owe our gratitude to Sarah and her staff for their splendid work.
I’d also like to thank John Gillis, Director of the Office for Victims of Crime, and Diane Stuart, Director of the Office on Violence Against Women, for offering a portion of their own budgets for this critical initiative. And I’d like to add my thanks to all our staff members, whom the Chief was kind enough to recognize in his remarks, for their assistance in making today’s event a reality.
Finally, I want to thank all of you for participating in this Summit, to discuss the important policy issues related to the use of DNA evidence. I eagerly await the recommendations you will develop here. And I look forward to working with the IACP, the National Forensic Science Technology Center, and all of you, as we develop a national strategy to advance the use of DNA evidence to solve crimes, convict the guilty, exonerate the innocent, and protect the public. Thank you all very much.