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Making Sense of DNA Backlogs - Myths vs. Reality

NCJ Number
Date Published
June 2010
20 pages

In examining why backlogs in DNA processing persist even after the Federal Government has provided millions of dollars to eliminate the backlog, this paper addresses the nature of the backlog and how it can be reduced.


The National Institute of Justice (NIJ), the research arm of the U.S. Justice Department, defines a DNA "backlogged" case as "one that has not been tested 30 days after it was submitted to the laboratory." Crime laboratories have two kinds of DNA backlogs, and each has its own distinctive issues. "Casework backlogs" consist of forensic evidence collected from crime scenes, victims, and suspects in criminal cases. Processing this type of evidence is time-consuming because the evidence must be screened to determine if, and what kind of, biological materials are present before DNA testing can even begin. The second type of backlog consists of convicted offender and arrestee sample backlogs. By 2009, the Federal Government and all 50 States had passed laws that require the collection of DNA from offenders convicted of certain crimes. In addition, the Federal Government and many States have also passed legislation that allows the collection of DNA samples from people arrested for certain crimes. The processing of such DNA samples involves the testing of the samples and the subsequent review and upload of the resulting DNA profiles into the national DNA data base, called CODIS (Combined DNA Indexing System). Delays in processing such DNA samples may occur at the analysis, the review, or the uploading into CODIS. After defining and identifying reasons for DNA processing backlogs, this paper explains why backlogs are not a static problem that will eventually recede with time and effort, but rather involve a dynamic situation that may increase or decrease based on the law of supply and demand. 6 exhibits and 4 notes

Date Published: June 1, 2010