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Solving Violent Crime Through Lawfully “Owed” DNA: Outcomes of Efforts to Address Missed DNA Samples

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Event Dates
Event Duration
1 Hour

Lawfully owed DNA procedures have an immeasurable impact on the criminal justice system. Procedures do not fall on just one discipline in the forensic science and criminal justice community, but rather the entire system, requiring a holistic approach. The resolution of gaps and challenges in collecting and processing lawfully owed DNA has demonstrated that crimes can be deterred and solved. Justice can be brought to victims and their loved ones—all at a relatively minimal cost. Yet, while missed DNA sample collection has been an identified problem for decades, there is limited information on large-scale efforts to address lawfully “owed” DNA outside of a prison system. 

Collecting lawfully owed DNA presents numerous tasks for jurisdictions, including (a) identifying convicted offenders and arrestees who should have their DNA in CODIS but do not, (b) collecting and processing DNA samples promptly, (c) ensuring the DNA samples are entered into CODIS, and (d) investigating the resulting CODIS forensic hits. Once those tasks are accomplished, jurisdictions must also consistently collaborate across agencies to ensure swabs are lawfully collected and do not continue to fall through the cracks. Unfortunately, many jurisdictions experience procedural roadblocks, which result in heavy backlogs and unsolved crimes. In some cases, this means offenders remain free to commit more crimes, and crimes with DNA evidence remain unsolved. 

To help address these issues, beginning in FY2016, the Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) added to the Sexual Assault Kit Initiative (SAKI) Purpose Area 3: the collection of lawfully owed DNA. SAKI’s first lawfully owed grantee, Cuyahoga County, OH, led by the Cuyahoga County Prosecutor’s Office (CCPO), received funding to collect lawfully owed DNA in their jurisdiction. The results of these efforts indicate widespread DNA sample collection issues in this jurisdiction, with nearly 15,000 identified as owing DNA over the span of approximately 7 years. Efforts to collect lawfully owed DNA samples from those who owe over a duration of approximately five and a half years have resulted in about one-fifth now being in CODIS, about 4% of these newly collected DNA profiles resulted in a forensic hit, and a quarter of those hits have resulted in a prosecution. The CCPO has also worked to implement policies and practices to help address DNA collection issues identified by the Owed DNA initiative, which have been evaluated and shown to be effective in ensuring DNA is collected.  

Cuyahoga County’s efforts demonstrate that addressing lawfully owed DNA enables cold cases to be solved, helps identify offenders connected to previously untested sexual assault kits and other types of violent crimes, and aids in connecting multiple cases to the same suspect. By also identifying challenges surrounding DNA collection, Cuyahoga County was able to adjust and revise protocols to improve the rate of DNA sample collection. This work serves as an important blueprint for other jurisdictions and underscores the importance of having effective policies and practices to help ensure that all who should lawfully have their DNA collected and uploaded into CODIS do. 

Information discussed in this NIJ FTCOE webinar has been provided in-part by the Bureau of Justice Assistance through the following funding numbers: 2016-AK-BK-K011 and 2019-AK-BX-0029. 

Detailed Learning Objectives

  1. Attendees will discover the scope of the problem in Cuyahoga County and the outcomes of efforts to address the problem.
  2. Attendees will recognize the progress made in Cuyahoga County in swabbing arrestees since the initiative began.
  3. Attendees will gain knowledge regarding lessons learned in addressing and implementing lawfully owed DNA protocols.

Date Created: March 17, 2023