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October 31, 2018

DNA Backlog

Legislation signed Oct. 9 by President Trump aims to increase the capacity of state local and local prosecutors to address the backlog of DNA analysis. P.L. 115-257 (H.R. 5854) amends the Debbie Smith DNA Backlog Grant Program to provide that for fiscal years 2019 through 2022 the Department of Justice must allocate at least 5 percent, but not more than 7 percent, of funding for a DNA analysis and capacity enhancement program and for other forensic activities to prosecute cold cases involving violent crime where suspects have been identified through DNA evidence. Reps. John Carter (R-Texas) and Bill Pascrell (D-N.J.) introduced the bipartisan legislation. During House debate on the bill, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) highlighted the impact of the Debbie Smith program, which since 2004 has enabled states to process more than 725,000 cases and upload more than 327,000 DNA profiles into the FBI Combined Index System (CODIS). The change made by the new law, Goodlatte said, will “allow victims of crime and their families to receive justice by giving prosecutors the tools they need.” Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) applauded the legislation, explaining that it is keeping with the Debbie Smith program’s initial purpose of reducing the backlog of DNA kits but now also allows the program to assist in the solving of cold cases and bringing the perpetrators of violent crimes to justice. While the ABA has not taken a position on the specifics of P.L. 115-257, the association supports the prompt collecting, testing and interpreting of DNA evidence and adopted the ABA Criminal Justice Standards on DNA Evidence in 2006. The standards address, among other things, the preservation of DNA evidence and its use in criminal trials.