Forensic DNA Evidence Backlog Information

Defining Backlogs

The definition of a “backlog” varies. There is no industrywide agreement on what a backlogged forensic case is. The National Institute of Justice (NIJ) defines a backlogged case as one that has not been tested for 30 days after it was submitted to the laboratory. Many crime laboratories, however, refer to any cases in the laboratory for which the final report has not been issued as a backlogged case. For counting purposes, they consider any current case as backlogged.

Counting the Backlog

The number of backlogged cases in crime laboratories changes daily. New DNA evidence is submitted, and older DNA cases are closed every day. Because the number is constantly changing, estimates of the number of backlogged cases nationwide is always fluid.

The most current nationwide assessment of the DNA casework sample backlog was provided to NIJ by state and local units of government who applied for funding under the FY 2009 Forensic DNA Backlog Reduction Program. The data they provided points to a national backlog of 70,693 DNA cases as of January 1, 2008. By contrast, a study by the Bureau of Justice Statistics pointed to a nationwide backlog of 24,030 DNA cases on January 1, 2005.

Reducing the Backlog

Federal funding has made significant progress toward clearing old cases from crime laboratories. Today, backlogs are of relatively new cases, but they continue to be a problem in many laboratories because demand for DNA testing services is increasing faster than the capacity of laboratories to process cases.

Investigating officers are more aware than ever of the power of DNA technology, and they are making more requests for testing. In addition, there are more requests for DNA testing in older “cold cases,” in older post-conviction cases (cases closed before DNA technology was available), and in property crime cases.

Why the Demand for DNA Testing Is Increasing

The demand for DNA testing is rising because everyone is becoming more aware of the potential of DNA evidence to help solve cases. The increased demand for DNA testing comes from two primary sources: (1) the increased amount of DNA evidence that is collected in criminal cases and (2) the expanded effort to collect DNA samples from convicted felons and arrested persons.

All states and the federal government have laws about collecting DNA from offenders or arrestees or both: 47 states collect DNA samples from convicted felons, and an additional 21 states collect DNA samples from arrestees. At the end of 2004, the FBI’s Combined DNA Index System (CODIS) contained just over 2 million offender profiles. At the end of June 2009, CODIS contained more than 7 million offender profiles.

The FBI estimates that at the end of 2004, there were 19,000 CODIS “hits” that aided investigations. A CODIS hit can be a match between the profile of a convicted offender or arrestee and the profile derived from a forensic case or between two cases. As of June 2009, there were more than 93,000 CODIS hits or investigations aided.

(Information provided courtesy of the Department of Justice)

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